Vices and virtues of extension tubes

Before buying a set of extension tubes, I have done my homework but I did not find so easily the information I was looking for. This article intends to answer the questions unresolved before I decided to buy them despite some grey zones. The main questions were the following:

– What can we expect from them?
– Who are the manufacturers and why chose one rather another?
– Advantages and constraints of extension tubes,
– Comparison with teleconverters,
– Real life feedback.

I have written my tests and conclusions into a pdf document “Extension tubes“, the analysis was too long to be posted as a blog entry. I have indeed read several articles, translated some which where not written in English and made my own tests.

And I came to several interesting conclusions:

Conclusions

Extension tubes don’t really work with wide-angle, that’s too bad, and it means you need a fish-eye when you want both a wide-angle and a very close focus (indeed some fish-eye can really focus as close a few centimetres from the front lens).

Extension tubes are not for beginners. For those on a budget, they are options not more expensive and more versatile (short focal macro lens, used if necessary).

Extension tubes work actually very well with long focal lenses (above 100 mm typically) either with macro lenses to get even closer, or with non macro lenses to shoot action macro, with reproduction ratio around 1:2 and not 1:1, fair enough but at f/2.8 if not f/2.0 when used with fast lenses.

Plastic made extension tubes (most of them) are not rigid, and therefore not really done for real reproduction purposes. However, when handling the camera with one hand and the lens with the other, they are still usable with heavy lens (at least as heavy as 2 kg).

The final word

Extension tubes are great accessories, not so expensive, but not versatile and only useful in specific conditions. I recommend buying a set and trying them to understand how each photographer can use them the best way possible for their photographies.

 

Here above the comparison of a 35 mm DX, the same lens with the whole set of tubes, and a 105 macro with the whole set of tubes. You will find more examples in my pdf document “Extension tubes“.

A Mirrorless overview for dummies

You want to follow the herd, you need – with some excellent reasons – a mirrorless. Well, actually there are so many options, I felt it was important to over simplify the landscape just to explain it with simple words. I don’t claim having right, I am just giving my basic opinion about main mirrorless cameras. So let’s start the show:

Olympus OM-D E-M5: an ugly name for a great body and a very mature system. If you don’t understand anything to the mirrorless’s mess, just buy this one. It is great.

Sony NEX-7: the best body. Best quality image, best controls, great look. Too bad, the lens systems sucks. Forget it until Sony will propose lenses good enough for such a jewel.

Sony NEX-5N: a great body too, but the lens systems still sucks, like for the NEX-7, that’s the same system.

Nikon V1 or J1: like a point and shoot, but bigger and more expensive. Great Autofocus, great video. Perfect for your kids, what most photographers like to shoot at. Controls sucks if you want something else than a fully auto mode.

Canon G1-X: that’s a compact masquerading the quality image of a mirrorless. Canon sucks trying to avoid cannibalization of its DSLR sales.

Fuji X-Pro1: a great body, my preferred one actually with Sony NEX-7. Great lenses but my preferred focals are missing (35 mm equivalent FX and ultra-wide angle). Too soon unless you like a 50 mm (equivalent FX) and are pleased with a non ultra wide-angle. The 3rd lens (90 mm equivalent FX macro) is great however. If you don’t like fixed focal, this is not a body for you, not just right now.

Leica M9: the price sucks, And not only the price. The body is really outmoded in many ways by newcomers. Leica still believes that “with great strengths come great weaknesses”. They should buy a DVD of Spiderman, they misundertood the quote.

Samsung 3 bodies NX1000, 210, 20: they are OK. Like Raymond Poulidor, they are never the best but always close to the best. Which makes me believe they suck too because there is always a better choice. Only their publishing services really rock.

Panasonic with bodies DMC-GF5, GX1, G3, GH2: failed to have the best bodies, but all are good (GH2 outmoded and to be replaced by a likely to be great body GH3). The lenses system is the best, but expensive. Buy a Panasonic body if you need several great lenses. High end bodies and lenses threatened by Fuji X-Pro1 system.

Pentax Q: the smallest sensor. Like a point and shoot but much more expensive. Funny if you have an unlimited budget or if you work as a secret service agent with the need of a tiny versatile camera. Not convinced yet, the lens system must improve to justify the costs and to explain why not buy rather a Canon S100 or a bigger mirrorless.

Pentax K-01: too bad its main strength seems to be its look. Not a bad body though, but not the best. A good choice if you like nice cameras, not my choice however. I like to take picture, not to attract attention. Cameras are not sun glasses.

There are a few other bodies (Other Olympus bodies but OM-D E-M5 have outmoded sensors but are still good cameras, Sony NEX-C3 is a good entry level mirrorless, but too big for a beginner omho), not my best choices.

My advice: read more in details reviews of these cameras, and if like many people you don’t have so much time, focus at your preferred choice.

A genuine test of the underwater WP-DC43 Case for Camera Canon S100

I have bought the Canon S100 as a second camera (a Nikon DSLR is my main camera) and I like the idea to protect it to depths of up to 40m with the optional WP-DC43 waterproof case.

Indeed, whereas you can find a lot of underwater point-and-shoot cameras, none so far can shoot raw, and their sensors, even for the best (Panasonic DMC-TS4), are no match to the S100. Conversely, the cameras with better sensor usually propose underwater case at a price far higher, and are usually much bigger and heavier.

So the S100 + WP-DC43 looked to me like a nice compromise: not cheap but not too expensive for a full manual-raw camera with a great (small) sensor, a small and light body, and very capable of taking great pictures.

Whereas I have not yet dived with both, I have made my first tests, and I have been struggling finding online reviews from users. So these are my first impressions, which are, so far, the only genuine ones as far as I know:

I like: many details are making it “almost” professional: light diffuser for the flash (works quite well if you are not in macro mode and remember that the S100 flash is not exactly the best for its class), you can use a tripod. It’s easy to put the S100 inside the case and to remove it. The leash works quite well too. Last and of course not least: easy to handle, controls and buttons can be used with gloves, it’s really easy to use it in the case. It is even somewhere easier than without!

Issues: you cannot use any longer the rear wheel! You can still use the front one however. So basically, the S100 is not as seamless to use manually as without the case, but you can still have full control. It is an issue you can live with, but that’s a real one. Further more, there is no cap for the front window of the case, that’s really too bad. And there is no bag either for the case itself. One made in neoprene would have made sense. The light diffuser’s leash cannot be attached to the body without some additional small carabiner (not included of course). The buoyancy of the case and the camera altogether is really positive, you really need to add some weight to make it neutral. Of course it is written nowhere in the S100 mini-website (or show me where please), but you can purchase the weights (Canon WWDC1, image on the left), actually you really need them for diving.

Image quality for underwater pictures: remember, the S100 can shoot RAW, has some very nice low light capabilities and can open at f/2.0 at 24 mm, but cannot be synchronized with additional flash but the small one embedded. Please also note than the sensor is still quite small even if bigger than most of the point and shoot. Therefore, the depth of field is really significant, often too much. Conversely, in macro mode, that’s making the shooting straightforward compare with APS-C or FX sensors.

 
An extreme shot, close to some dangerous wildlife, WB auto, no flash, low light.

Conclusion: the S100 and its underwater case are not cheap, but they are a very decent option to take serious underwater pictures, for the fraction of the price of a DSLR and its 40 meters depth underwater case. However, they are issues and limitations, which could not be negligible for some, but which I believe to acceptable, even if regrettable for most of them.

Everything about the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III

I know the stuff has not been released recently (released around 2009) but when I was interested in purchasing one, it has been quite challenging to make a decent opinion about it. So let’s make a summarize:

To make a long story short: it works pretty well for a x2 teleconverter but it is a x2 teleconverter which means: you can use it but the image quality is not as good as without it and the loss of 2 stops cannot be negligible. The AF works quite well as long as you are using a fast lens, as one could understand, AF does not work well for lens slower than f/5.6. So if you need it, you can buy it, again it works quite well. But if you can afford buying the big and expenses Pro tele-lenses, that’s better, but very expensive and very heavy too.

I can basically identify 3 main reasons to buy it:

  1. With the 70-200 VRII f/2.8 to get a 400 mm tele-zoom, decently opened (f/5.6) and not too heavy,
  2. With a long pro tele-lens (400 mm f/2.8) because, well, if you need a bigger gun you need a bigger gun,
  3. With the 105 mm Micro f/2.8 because you can increase the macro capability significantly, and because some bugs don’t allow you to come closer and the 200 mm f/4 is quite expensive, especially if you already have the 105 mm.

You should remember that the teleconverter is not cheap, and is heavy. Another option, which I find to be consistent, is to acquire the Kenko Teleplus PRO300 2x DGX for half the price of the Nikon and which weights less. The image quality is not as good but looks decent (I have only the Nikon) and as Teleconverter are nothing but a compromise, it is making sense to avoid spending too much. If you don’t like compromise, you should buy the lens you need and don’t use a teleconverter at all (but if you want very long focals, like a  800 mm, fair enough).

Last and not least, teleconverters don’t work with every lenses, so check the list before.

Additional resources:

A few more pictures from the field:

Do you really need a better camera? Episode 4: everyday life

I am comparing a DSLR and a compact, both modern and famous for their excellent quality images (Nikon D7000, Canon S100), in order to evaluate when we really need to get one or the other, or both together. Sometimes, I am also comparing the pictures with those taken by a smartphone (Samsung Galaxy SII).  I am also doing this as I have noticed this kind of comparison is seldom done. Most of the time, people are comparing cameras of the same kind but don’t ask themselves whether they really need this category of camera. Previously, I have noticed that outdoor/landscapes shots during the day may not really require the big and fat DSLR. I mean I have been surprised by the performances of modern tiny sensors as soon as there is enough light. However, I have also noticed that for Macro, the DSLR was still much better.

So now let’s come to a very basic kind of pictures: portraits done inside. Everybody is taking some, of friends, family, … I have chose to shoot at the end of the afternoon, my little baby, either when she was playing, or in the arms of her mother but with back to the light. These two kind of pictures are actually technically quite challenging for the cameras, and this time, again, thanks God, the DSLR is again much better, as expected:

The very compact camera cannot be fast at 120mm equivalent (f/5.9). I had to shoot at 1600 ISO, and the speed was from far too slow (1/8 s). The stabilization does not help so much as a baby is not always standing still.

With a modern DSLR and a fast zoom (70-200 VRII f/2.8), everything works as expected, thanks God. This gear (body + zoom) is 8 times more expensive and 10 times heavier than the compact!

With back light, the light evaluation was not as good with the compact than with the DSLR. Further more, I had to shoot at 3200 ISO and whereas the speed was almost fast enough, the back light underexposed it so much I had to post-process the RAW to get an acceptable picture. But the noise is pretty much unacceptable! Last and not least, you can compare the depth of field (DOF). f/5.9 and a small sensor is making more or less any picture with too often too much  DOF.

With the DSLR, the picture is not perfect. The back light made the picture under exposed too but the post processing of the RAW file is providing a much more acceptable results. The speed (1/125 s) was what I wanted (I respected the rule 1/f equivalent FX) and the DOF is much more adequate too.

Comparing the grain of both cameras, after applying some noise reduction during the post process, the difference is not obvious, which mean that you should more take care of the dynamic of the sensor than just the MP (which is a little bit a surprise to me by the way). That said, difference between the two sensors is not that big (12 MP and 16 MP):

(Canon S100, crop 1:1)

(Nikon D7000, crop 1:1)

Conclusion:

To make a long story short, there is still room to improve compact cameras for what they are supposed to be good at: family pictures. Whereas not liked by many photographers, and whereas I am still waiting for a Nikon mirrorless which I could use, you can understand the “raison d’être” of the Nikon 1 bodies: a fast autofocus and a much better sensor than compact can provide decent family pictures, which a high end compact camera like the S100 still cannot do really so often.