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Sony a65: the new standard in digital photography

The Sony a65, premiered during the summer of 2011, alongside the a77, is a step forward for Sony. Offering a 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor, 10 fps continuous shooting rate, full-time live view and phase-detection AF as well as numerous other features that it shares with its higher end sibling. The a65 is unique in its market segment. On paper, the a65 is a significantly more interesting camera in some respects than its peers like the Canon EOS 7D and Nikon D7000.

Of particular interest is Sony’s SLT (single lens translucent) design, with its ability to offer DSLR-style autofocus in live view, having eliminated the need for a prism and flip-up mirror. As a result, this allows for a higher shooting rate and a more silent operation, as well as real-time live view. In addition, without the mirror/prism design of traditional DSLRs, the A65 pushes the technology considerably further, with the introduction of a high-resolution XGA OLED electronic viewfinder.

Having used the Sony a65 during the past year, in a variety of shooting situations, with a number of different Sony lens, I have come to admire its competent capabilities. The camera feels superbly in the hand, the electronic viewfinder (EVF), with its excellent refresh rate, is brighter and clearer than an optical viewfinder, and the on-board menus are clearly displayed. It’s the perfect blend of camera and computer in one package optimized for the aspiring photographer.

Here is a video of the Sony a65:

Leica Lenses… I love ’em!!

A video of the manufacture of Leica lens… quality second to none… they’re the best… in German engineering!!

Leica Lenses (English) from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

National Weather Service Open House

The National Weather Service (NWS), headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, is one of the agencies that make up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States government.

The purpose of the National Weather Service is to provide “weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” This is done through a network of national and regional centers, and 122 local weather forecast offices (WFOs). Since the NWS is a government agency, most of its products are in the public domain and available free of charge.

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Hirshhorn Museum

Modern art at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC.

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Happy Hour

On a recent Friday evening, a friend asked if I wanted to attend happy hour at a nearby establishment. Since I’m not usually into the bar scene (been there, done that), I was pretty ambivalent about going to another gathering of strangers to make superficial small talk at the end of a long and tiring work week.

The term “happy hour” always seem weirdly strange to me. Are the people who attend really “happy” or is this type of gathering ever limited to an hour?

From what I’ve read, it seems that the idea of holding “happy hours” is an attempt by restaurant owners to attract customers to frequent their establishments during the slower times of the day between the lunch crowd and the evening dinner crowd. Therefore, during the 4 pm to 8 pm time slot, owners would entice customers with reduced drink and appetizer prices.

According to Acton, Adams and Packer (2006), in their book, Origin of Everyday Things, the term “happy hour” originated with the United States Navy in the 1920s, when boxing and wrestling matches were scheduled on-board ships to entertain sailors on long voyages.

During the Prohibition years (1920 – 1933), the manufacture, sale, transportation, importation, and exportation of intoxicating liquors within the United States were prohibited.  As a result, citizens began operating illegal drinking establishments to produce, distribute, and consume illegal alcoholic beverages. Therefore, people could still enjoy a few cocktails before going to dinner at a restaurant where alcohol could not be served.  These illegal drinking establishments held “Happy Hours” for citizens who were daring enough to break the law.

After some mental deliberations, I decided to attend this particular “happy hour”, in part, because I wanted to try out a new lens. The lens is the Sony DT 35mm F1.8 for APS-C sensors, providing the full frame equivalent of 53mm. As a DT lens and a member of the Sony “easy choice” lens range, it is very affordable, turning in a stellar performance. Check out the excellent review here.

This particular happy hour was held at Jackson’s, in Reston, VA. As I approached the place, I sensed the cool and dry evening, with the sun beginning its journey below the horizon. As I train my eyes on the establishment, the mob of bodies was clearly visible a block away, like a gathering of assorted animals at a water hole in the arid Serengeti Dessert; there were big ones and small one, short one and tall ones. Some were colorful, while others were quite drab. The odor of pheromones was not too noticeable, though certain peer-to-peer stereotypical behaviors were easily observed.

Walking through the front door, I had an uneasy feeling in my gut, scanning the scene for the leader of our pack. After a few minutes of wandering around, I settled among a group of familiar people.

The evening turned out better than I had anticipated. Although the liquid refreshments never wavered from the usual, the local food in this section of the Serengeti was quite satisfying. I met a number of interesting denizens, providing me the opportunity to test my lens. A couple of us broke away from the masses to sample the local flora and fauna.

             Sesame Crusted Tuna

85mm F2.8 Lens

On a warm sunny April day, I had a chance to venture out for a brief experiment with lighting and bokeh. I used an 85mm lens, opened to its maximum aperture of F2.8. Although wider apertures, such as F1.8 and F1.4, are available for the 85mm lens,the F2.8 lens represents a significant savings. The typical cost of the F2.8 lens is less than $300. This is quite a savings compared to the $500 to over $2000 price tag for the same focal length lens of F1.4 or F1.2.

Although a bit slower, F2.8 still falls within the fast lens range, and shooting in daylight, this lens works great. On a cropped sensor (APC-S) camera, the 35mm equivalent would equal to approximately 127mm, producing a nice bokeh effect as seen in the image below of a wood post supporting a fence ringing Fort Ward Park, in Alexandria, VA. At F2.8, the depth of field is quite narrow, as evident from the sharpness of the fence post, with out of focus areas in the background and foreground.

Signs of Spring

This past Friday was unseasonable warm for this time of year in the Washington DC area, so I took advantage of the opportunity to go out and do some shooting in the neighborhood. For these captures, I used a Panasonic GF-3 ILC camera with a Leica 45mm F2.8 macro lens.

Here is a photo of the fruits of the maple tree. The immature fruits are still attached to the branches. Their reproductive structures have completed their purpose in life, and are seen desiccated, hanging to the tops of the petiole. The winged fruits are beginning to ripen and will soon mature, as which point they will be blown off the stems of the tree to sail away to begin a new journey of their own.

Maples are endemic to Asia, Europe, and the United States. Although the genus, Acer, to which the maples belong, consists also of shrubs, we are most familiar with the tree form. Most maples are deciduous, loosing all leaves during their winter hibernation. Flowers appear during late winter and early spring. In the above example, the flowers have appeared before the leaves. The winged fruits will have begun to drop with the first appearance of leaves. As the fruits mature, they will turn from the above pink color to a light green, then to a deep green at maturity.

Here is an image of forsythia. Their bright yellow petals are clearly visible, as they imbue the bush with a golden glow. The common name, forsythia, is the same as its genus name, Forsythia. These shrubs are native to Asia, though many can now be found throughout the world as ornamental plants in gardens, yards, and along city streets.

Forsythias are deciduous shrubs, which flowers in early spring before the onset of leaves. The flowers are generally yellow, with four petals, joined at the base. After pollination and fertilization, the mature fruit is a dry capsule containing a number of winged seeds.

Highbush Blueberry flower bud

Last Thursday (3/8) with temperatures hovering around the low 70’s here in the Washington, DC area, I noticed a bunch of highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) bushes beginning to awaken from their winter slumber. The highbush blueberry is a native of eastern North America, growing to about four feet tall. The one pictured is about two feet tall.

In this sample, the flowers buds are turning a bright pink, as they swell and absorb water. Their winter condition is more of a dull greenish-crimson color. As the weather warms and the availability of water increases, the buds should begin to open in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned to future postings as I chronicle the  progression of the highbush blueberry from flower bud to fruit.

The image was captured with a Panasonic GF3, using a Leica 45mm F2.8 macro lens.

f/9 @ 1/30 sec ISO 160

Burke Lake Park

Burke Lake Road and pedestrian bridge spanning the northern end of Burke Lake.

Burke Junction train station. A functioning replica from the days of the steam engine, complete with a wind-driven water well.

This past Saturday, 3 March 2012, having noticed the sun coming out after a cloudy morning I decided to use the opportunity to take a trip out to Burke Lake Park for some photography. Here are two pictures from this excursion. Each picture is actually a composite of multiple images taken with exposures optimized separately for the sky and the land areas. The sky exposures were also taken with a polarizing filter with the sun at approximately 80 degrees left of the camera. The multiple exposures were then combined in Photoshop Elements 9 and Lightroom 4 to achieve the final results.

cK one

Calvin Klein’s iconic perfume, hitting the scene in 1994, brought sexiness to the unisex fragrance. With its light, citrusy notes, ck one reminds me of those earlier care-free days of youth. This has become my favorite fragrance. Take a time warp back to those frolic-filled days of playgrounds, water fountains, neighborhood parks, and musical ice cream trucks.

I made the above image with the Panasonic GF-3 mirrorless camera with post production processing using PhotoShop Elements 9

140 mm
3.2 sec @ f/8 ISO 160

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