Tag Archives: Photography

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

I’ve had the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM for years, it is one of the sharpest lenses out there, and it shoots 1:1 macro. I shoot commercial product photography professionally, so the 100/2.8 macro was the lens with which I made probably more than 80% of my income from photography. I however only used that lens for work, but almost never for personal work. I shot a couple of macro shots to test out the lens when I first got it, it was a fine lens but the aperture was not round enough, so the out of focus area was too harsh for my liking. It worked fine for product closeups, but for anything else the harsh bokeh really bothered me, so the lens never left my studio since I got it.

Canon introduced an L version of this lens, it does 1:1 macro, but has the new IS system that provides up to 5 stops of stabilization, the aperture is also near-round, so it yeilds similar soft and dreamy bokeh like my other lenses. I looked on eBay and was surprised to find out that I could easily sell my 100/2.8 with the hood for around $500, so that means it will only costs about $500 to upgrade, which I think is well worth it. The improvements will make me want to take the lens out of the studio and have fun with it. Amazon has this lens for about $1k, which is an amazing deal IMO. I brought it to the SF botanical garden for a test drive, it performed as expected: much smoother transition between in and out of focus areas, way smoother bokeh, the MTF graphs comparison shows that it is even sharper, but pretty much the whole graph is under the Nyquist frequency of the 5D Mark II so I don’t think anyone can really tell the difference. It is tack sharp for sure though. I accidentally shut off the IS so I didn’t get to test it much, I was able to take test portraits without camera shake at around 1/15 the night before, at 1:1 it will have to give a few more stops to be safe.

Some shots from the botanical garden:

sf botanical garden
f/4, 1/1000s

sf botanical garden
f/3.5, 1/1250s

sf botanical garden
f/3.2, 1/640s

This lens is pretty inexpensive for what it offers, other than the crazy MPE, which is very specialized and it’s pretty much a microscope, the 100L is the best macro lens for Canon right now. The AF is very fast, f/2.8 at 100mm is pretty bright, and it is tack sharp at wide open. The lens also makes a really good portrait lens, not quite as insane as the 85L, but it is half the price and it does 1:1 macro. I would definitely recommend getting this over the non-L version of the 100/2.8 macro. The non-L version is $599 and the hood is about $40, so the 100L is only about $360 more, but you get round-aperture, amazing IS, weather seal, an amazing lens hood (best Canon lens hood I’ve seen), as well as a lens bag! Definitely worth the extra $360 IMO. If you have a full frame body and are ready to buy your first L lens, I’d say forget the 24-70L, get the 100L, it is a much cooler lens to have.

You can pick one up at Amazon, btw, the price on Amazon has been fluctuating between $1060 to $1005, if the current price is too high, you should be able to wait a couple of days for it to drop back down to about $1005:

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

85 vs 24-70
85/1.2L II vs 24-70/2.8L

The top reasons I chose Canon was because of insane L primes, out of all the lenses out there, the one I’d always wanted was the 85L, as it is arguably the best lens for portraits. The price of this lens has gone up over the years, especially after Canon introduced the Mark II version. Recently the price went down a little bit, so I picked it up soon as that happened. After shooting with it for a few weeks, all I can say is that I should’ve bought this lens long time ago.

The lens however is not for everyone, it is expensive, heavy, large, AF is relatively slow if you’re used to other fast L primes and zooms. The minimum focusing distance is 0.95 meter, which is probably farther than what you’re used to. It is also a very difficult lens to use if you don’t have strict shooting discipline. Shooting anywhere close to wide open requires expert focusing techniques, especially if you have a camera with AF-points pattern that doesn’t make sense for portraits; focus-and-recompose is not an option when operating with an inch of depth of field. But if you know what you’re dealing with, this is one amazing lens. Some images I shot with the 85L:

Puerto Vallarta for Mia's wedding
f/1.8 1/2000s with B+W ND4 filter

Puerto Vallarta for Mia's wedding
f/1.4 1/100s

Puerto Vallarta for Mia's wedding
f/1.2 1/500s

ninja espionage
5D Mark II, 85/1.2L II, f/1.2, 1/50s, ISO 6400

caliber photowalk

caliber photowalk

f/1.8 1/3200s, B+W ND4 filter

farmers mkt
f/1.4 1/800s, B+W ND4 filter

Before I got in the world of L primes I thought a fullframe body with a 24-70/2.8L is a really good setup for serious photographers. But after shooting with L primes, I can say that the 24-70 is not even close to the sharpness, contrast, and quality (especially bokeh softness) of the 50L and 85L. Now, for the serious photographers, I think the perfect Canon starter “kit” is the 50/1.2L with a full frame body. With foot works, it is pretty much a 24-70, only much faster and better image quality. I am seriously considering selling my 24-70L for a 35L now. I do like the 24mm end though, but the 24L is not nearly as good as the 35L. If I didn’t have the 85L I would get the 50L for sure, but they’re a bit too close and expensive to own both. I also upgraded my 100/2.8 Macro USM to the new L version with IS, will talk about that in my next post.

btw, the 85L is very cheap right now, lowest price in the past few years:

Panasonic LX3: also returned

I returned the Canon G11 and got the Panasonic LX3. Quick thoughts on the LX3:

  • very small for a highend P&S
  • AF, shutter, and operation lags were better, but still not as quick as my Fuji f50fd
  • as expected, the lens on the LX3 was even better than that of the G11, and it’s also very fast, f/2 to f/2.8 in the whole range
  • wideangle is amazing, optical zoom is not quite long enough, but that’s not a huge problem for me, I’d rather have a fixed lens.

After about 300 frames, and a few 720p videos, I liked it, but not enough to keep it, so back Amazon it went.

Some LX3 snaps:

LX3 test

small dog HH

LX3 test

you can find all my LX3 snaps here: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=lx3&w=68826320%40N00

The images are still very P&S like, it’s very hard to have any background separation on the camera, so I decided to return it and spend the money to upgrade my Canon 100/2.8 macro USM to the new 100L IS version. (samples from that lens in a later post). The Leica X1 samples I’ve seen have also been very disappointing, at this point I’ve given up on getting a small digital for now. I looked at the GF1 and it’s nice, but the lenses are terrible, the bokeh is so harsh that it reminds me of cheap Canon lenses.

If you still wanna pick up the LX3 or the GF1, you can get them here: 😉

Canon PowerShot G11 initial impressions

G11 shots

I was pretty excited when Canon announced the

Canon PowerShot G11. My SLR rig is too large, and I want a decent walk-around camera. The G11, from the specs, seems to fit the criterias for a DMD (decisive moment digital). You can tell the lens on the G11 is incredible from the samples at the Canon Japan site. The decreased pixel count is great as that means lower (better) pixel density – 23MP/cm² – which should translate to better noise performance in high ISO settings. Noise control is very important to me, especially with a P&S. Built-in flash almost never yield decent shots, it is best to turn flash off when shooting indoor. In fact, I only use it for fill flash, and to get catch lights in the eyes, not as a primary light source. I was really anxious to pick up a G11, I checked Amazon daily for weeks. When I learned that Best Buy had them in stock, I immediately went to check it out. I played with their demo unit in store, it was fairly obvious that the noise performance wasn’t great from playback shots on the LCD. The next day I found a 10% coupon, that made Best Buy’s price comparable to ordering online. Knowing that American Express would refund my restocking fee if I want to return it, I went back and picked one up. I’ve had the G11 for 5 days, shot around 500 frames. I am not 100% happy satisfied with it, and I haven’t decided if I’m keeping it. Some quick thoughts on this camera:


  • Great lens, the lens is one of the best I’ve seen in a P&S, and I would say it’s better than crappy “kit lens” that come with most entry-level D-SLRs. The G11 is actually very sharp at wide open aperture
  • Wide angle, pretty useful when shooting in tight spaces. It also shoots great WA macro shots, something you really need a P&S for
  • It shoots RAW, this gives me more flexibility in post-processing
  • Hotshoe for flash! I can mount a Canon Speedlite on it and the camera does accurate E-TTL flash metering. It works very well with bounced flash as well. The hotshot also allows syncing to strobes in studio with PocketWizards and other remote triggering devices. The following shot was done with a bounced 580EX II:

G11 takes decent macro shots
G11, ISO 100, 6.1mm, f/2.8, 1/60s

G11 shots
G11 + 580EX II

G11 shots
side profile of camera with 580EX II attached

  • Manual controls, this is pretty important to me, the G11, like most highend P&S, allows full manual controls of aperture, shutter speed, and focus
  • Image Stabilization works well
  • Swivel screen is nice, not because I like to take pictures of myself, but because I can flip it around to protect the screen

G11 shots

G11 shots

  • Control knobs for ISO settings, EV compensation, and shooting modes. They allow quick adjustments without having to go through the menu, they also feel really solid

G11 shots

G11 shots

  • Noise control in JPEGs is decent (more on this later)
  • Metering is very accurate, and it even has a spotmeter
  • Great battery life, after a few days of decent use the battery is still full


  • NOISE!! Anything above ISO 800 is unusable IMO, especially in RAW. This is very disappointing, I expected much better noise control from this sensor – maybe my expectation is unrealistic. JPEGs are clearner because the camera has hardware noise reduction, so I shoot RAW+JPEG
  • Weight! Very solid construction, but heavy for a P&S, it is also large enough that it won’t fit in jeans pockets (unless you want sick stretch and fades)
  • Price. MSRP is $500, and street prices are higher than the Panasonic LX3 right now, for a bit more I could get the DLUX4, both of these got a even better lens!
  • The viewfinder is absolutely useless, I don’t even see AF points or even just a bracket in there
  • Slow AF, maybe it’s fast for a P&S, but AF and response time is not even close to what I’m used to, and not much faster than the SD series P&S
  • Variable aperture, I hate zoom lenses with variable aperture
  • It would be nice to have a front adjustment ring around the lens like the S90, that would be useful for manual focusing
  • AF assist light, it is on by default, and is very annoying
  • Video capability is a joke, for $500, it really should do HD videos

Some test shots with the G11

more g11 snaps
G11, 6.1mm, f/8, 1/200s, ISO 80

more g11 snaps
G11, 12mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 125

more G11 tests
G11, 6.1mm, f/2.8, ISO 80

G11 photowalk
G11, 30.5mm, f/4.5, 1/100s, ISO 800

G11 photowalk
G11, 6.1mm, f/3.2, 1/60s, ISO 640

By the way,

Amazon now has it in stock:

Pullfolio private beta! Here’s your invite!

If you’re a pro/semi-pro photographer and love Flickr, I think you will love Pullfolio. Pullfolio helps you create professional portfolio sites using photos in your Flickr account by tag(s) or photosets. For example, you can setup your photography site with these portfolios:

  • Wedding – it pulls all photos that are tagged pullfolio and wedding (or whatever tag(s) you specified when you configure the portfolio) from your Flickr account
  • Portraits – it pulls all photos from your portraits photoset on Flickr

You get the idea. You can also enter your blog URL, bio, and contact info, and they will be included on your site. You can also choose from a few themes. If you upgrade to the Pro subscription for just $15 a month, you will be able to point your domain to the site, add your analytics code for tracking, and if you want to get your hands dirty, you have the ability to completely customize your site. We plan to partner with designers to provide more themes, and if you need a designer, we can provide referrals to ones who understand how our themes work.

When you upload new photos to Flickr, you will just have to tag them or add them to a photoset and your portfolio website will have the new photos automatically.

You can check out my photography site to get an idea of how it works. I still have to setup my own portfolios properly though.

If this sounds like it’s something you want, I am giving out 100 invites, here’s a direct link to signup for our private beta:

Each account also comes with 5 additional invites upon signup.

A bit of background: as a heavy Flickr user, I’ve always wanted a photography site that pulls photos from my Flickr account. This way I can upload my photos to Flickr with the right tags or photoset, and it will automatically show up at my photography site. After not having a proper photography site for more than 3 years, there still isn’t a service out there that does what I want. It’s also quite shocking that I was able to get gigs by networking and my Flickr photostream (or “collections” rather) without a website. When Ray and I were brainstorming ideas of what to build, I selfishly suggested this idea. We got a prototype working within 2 weeks, however, to turn the idea into a real product that supports many users, themes, subscriptions, custom domains, while using behavior-driven development with 100% test coverage, was a significant effort.

Feel free to post any feedback at our UserVoice feedback forum. You can follow Pullfolio on Twitter to get updates on new features.

Does your 5d Mark II overexpose when you’re not shooting full manual? Check your focusing screen setting.

I shoot M 95% of the times, gotta use that lightmeter whenever I can, you know. But when I shot Av in the last several months, the images were often bit overexposed. I would usually check the histogram and adjust and didn’t think much of it, but it bothered me that the exposure was a bit off if I didn’t change the EV compensation myself.

I was casually shooting at a park last weekend and it dawned on me that I forgot to change the focusing screen settings to Eg-S after I upgraded the firmware. I got the Eg-S for more accurate DOF display, but it’s a much dimmer focusing screen, and it pretty much requires f/2.8 lenses to be bright enough to see. After changing the focusing screen I changed the settings in the camera so it would meter appropriately, but I guess upgrading the firmware must have reset that setting to the default factory focusing screen, so the processor thought the frame was darker than it actually was and bumped up the EV.

Now the setting is back where it should, I find myself shooting at aperture priority a little bit more.

Rainbow and clouds over San Francisco

I bought a Hoya Pro1 Digital circular polarizer off eBay a while ago, but didn’t get a chance to try it until today. It rained last night and first half of the day, and then the sun came out. I drove up to Twin Peaks with my camera, tripod, and my 24-70/2.8L with the circular polarizer attached for a few shots. We were lucky enough to catch the rainbow, it was definitely an interesting sight.

Both of the images here were enhanced with the graduate filter in Adobe Camera Raw to bring out a bit more of the buildings, as they were both metering more to the sky. Exposure info can be seen at Flickr (you click on the image to go to its Flickr page, and then click on “more properties” in the EXIF info section). Black and white conversion was done by simply creating a Black & White adjustment layer.

Rainbow (by Andrew Ng Images)

Clouds (by Andrew Ng Images)

Photography and Snowboarding

Took a hiatus from blogging. I have been busy with photography and snowboarding, I also did some personal works outside of the commercial stuff. I picked up a B+W ND4 filter, and went to Ocean Beach to test it out, my original intention was to slow down the shutter speed so I can have a photograph of the moving sand when the waves hit, but I couldn’t quite get the shot I wanted. Instead I got a decent shot of the sunset:

Sunset at Ocean Beach (by Andrew Ng Images)

We are in Tahoe a lot this season, we took the cable car at Squaw:

Sqauw Valley Cable Car (by Andrew Ng Images)

We then went back there 2 weeks later to ride Squaw, Sherry on top of Siberia Bowl (shot with my Fuji point-and-shoot):

On top of Siberia Bowl at Squaw (by Andrew Ng Images)

We got back to the city and decided to do a short day trip to Napa earlier this week, on our way there we saw an empty cargo train stopped in the middle of the track, so we climbed up there for a few shots, here’s one:

empty cargo train in Napa (by Andrew Ng Images)

They wanted to do a jumping shot so I snapped one, Peju saw this photo on Flickr and they are going to put it up on their website.

Peju (by Andrew Ng Images)

Sherry made a video of herself snowboarding (and before you ask, no, it wasn’t shot with the 5d2):

I’ll get back into running and do more skating after the snowboarding season ends.

Lake Tahoe

Sherry went to Taipei for Lunar New Year so Bear and I spent 2 weeks at our cabin in Tahoe. I snowboarded most days and it was pretty awesome. Riding Sierra on weekdays means pretty much having the slopes to myself, we got huge amount of pow the first weekend and yesterday it started snowing again so I rode pow on my last day as well. This weekend and next week should be awesome so we will probably go there again.

On my way to the cabin I took a few snaps on 50 around Echo Lake, here’s one:

Echo Lake (by Andrew Ng Images)

The mountain closes at 4pm so I had about an hour and a half before sunset, and I ventured out around the lake to take some shots. I didn’t plan to take landscapes there so I left my tripod in SF, these shots were all taken at ISO settings just barely low enough for handheld.

I googled to find photo spots in Tahoe and the top spot was Emerald Bay, I took Bear there and got a decent shot of it:

Emerald Bay before sunset (by Andrew Ng Images)

Bear at Emerald Bay (by Andrew Ng Images)

The following day we went to Zephyr Cove, I think I was at around Zephyr Cove but wasn’t quite there. I went to this private convention center or something like that, had to hike a bit to get to the beach, but the sight was worth it:

Zephyr Cove (by Andrew Ng Images)

After that I drove back to the California side and stopped by Ski Run Blvd by Heavenly:

Ski Run Blvd (by Andrew Ng Images)

There was a public beach nearby, the sunset on the beach was spectacular, there were properties with backyards facing the beach. These shots were taken ISO3200, a bit noisy for colors (at least to me so I converted them to duotone:

LT (by Andrew Ng Images)

Beach (by Andrew Ng Images)

The next day I went down Luther Pass toward Kirkwood:

Luther's Pass (by Andrew Ng Images)

sunset @ intersection of 89 and 88 (by Andrew Ng Images)

I meant to stop by a Pony Express remount station that was used for only 5 weeks in Woodfords but it was getting dark so I turned back and headed back home.