Fujifilm HS20EXR Super Zoom

The Fujifilm FinPix HS20EXR has been out for a few months now but still is a powerhouse of a camera. Replacing the HS10, which was a successful model for the company, the HS20 features an 16-megapixel EXR CMOS sensor that’s a significant step up from the HS10’s 10-megapixel sensor.

Fujifilm HS20
Fujifilm's HS20EXR - Perfect for your kid's soccer games

Fujifilm built the HS20 around a 30x zoom Super EBC Fujinon lens, which yields an effective focal length of 24mm to 720mm, offering an affordable alternative for consumers who want big glass features without the big glass price tag.

To keep the extreme end of the zoom stable, the HS20 includes three image stabilization features: One that actually shifts the sensor to eradicate shake, backed up by Pixel Fusion technology to increase sensitivity and boost shutter speed. Finally there’s EXR Auto, which takes four pictures in rapid succession and combines them into a single, blur-free image.

The BSI-CMOS sensor in the camera delivers good quality low-light results and the camera software includes features to push the dynamic range in tricky lighting situations and can deliver 11 frames per second at 8-megapixel resolution in burst mode.

For video the HS20 can shoot 1080 HD with stereo sound, but limited to 30fps.  The camera also has a high speed movie mode that shoots at 320 fps.

On the downside, some testers have reported some minor focusing issues and dinged it for using 4 AA batteries instead of a rechargeable lithium-ion option.

With a price tag in the $400 range, those are workable annoyances.  With the zoom and fast action capability, this would be the go-to consumer camera for people wanting to take pictures at their kid’s sporting events.

Weekend Project – Light Painting

light painting example
Light painting is a great weekend project with the kids - photo by Arcade

Light painting is one of those things you save for a Saturday night with the kids.  It’s fun, easy, you’ll get results you never expected, and the kids will have a blast.  All you need is a dark area, a stout tripod, remote release, and an assortment of lights, glow sticks, and flashlights.

One safety rule: Leave the laser pointers at home.  Laser light and your camera sensor do not mix and permanent damage can result.  Some people do use lasers to “write” on a solid surface and that’s fine, just understand a beam of coherent light coming directly in the lens and your camera is a very expensive paperweight.

This is where you’ll get familiar with your camera’s “B” or Bulb setting.  Bulb means you open the shutter and it will stay open as long as you’ve got your finger on the trigger.

There are two basic styles to light painting: You can attempt to draw things in the air with your lights, or you can attempt a design or abstract shape.  When you’re done with the design part, then you can decide whether you want to fire a flash unit and illuminate the rest of the area, sometimes including the artist, or not.

For abstract shapes, one of my favorite tricks is to tie a glow stick on a piece of string and swing it around with the shutter open.  This is your chance to go crazy.  Try different colors, different patterns, use your lights to make outline of solid objects.  You’re only limited by time and your imagination.

Just remember, in the summer, be sure and take some bug spray with you.  You’ll need it.

Top 5 Portrait Lenses

canon 100mm
The Canon 100mm f/2.8 makes a great portrait lens for full frame DSLRs

When buying a new camera most people, unless they already have lenses, will get it with a decent kit zoom.  Their first lens purchase will almost inevitably be a portrait lens.There are so many great lenses out there for portraits, it’s hard to pick winners.  So my compromise is to pick my five favorites.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 D

Coming in at just under $500, the 85mm f/1.8 is one of the of the most highly regarded lenses in Nikon’s arsenal.  Not a great choice for low-light situations, but portrait photographers swear by it.

Specifically that would be head and shoulders style portraits or close-ups.  If you want to take full body shots, you’ll have to step back quite a bit.

Nikon makes a f/1.4 version of the same lens, but at twice the price it’s hard to justify the cost.

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G

Criticized lately on build quality, it’s still a fine portrait lens for around $200.  Maybe a tad less sharp than the 85mm, but it takes better eyes than mine to see much difference.

Mounted in front of Nikon’s APS-C, a slightly larger sensor than the Canon APS-C, it yields an effective zoom of 75mm.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 Autofocus Prime

This lens might be a tad long for APS-C models, like my Canon 7D, but matched up with a full size sensor on a 5D, this is a killer portrait lens.

Fast enough to provide good performance in low light, and snaps to focus nearly silently.  Work a stop or two under wide open and it’s sharp enough to slice paper.  Priced around $600.

The only downside to using this lens all day is the weight.  It’s one of the heavier lenses of the top picks.

Canon “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8

You knew this one was coming.  It’s one of the finest portrait lenses Canon makes.  Priced around $100, it’s the first lens most Canon shooters purchase and the one that ends up spend the most time on the camera.

Newer models have developed a noticeable buzz in the auto-focus.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II

This is my personal favorite.  A little more expensive than some of the others and the only zoom on my list, I love this lens.  It’s a great performer in low and mixed light and delivers razor sharp quality.

The auto-focus is noisier than you’d expect for a lens at this price point and it can act confused and slow hunting around for focus.

Priced in the mid-$600’s, it’s still my choice for portraits or weddings.

Panasonic’s New FX90 Goes Wireless

Panasonic FX90
The Panasonic FX90 incorporates 802.11b/g/n wireless capabilities

Panasonic has introduced an upgraded feature set for its Lumix line with the introduction of the FX90.

Aimed primarily at users who want to share their photos online but want better quality images that a smartphone can produce.  The most prominent feature of the FX90 is WiFi capability in conjunction with a new service called Lumix Club, a cloud-based service accessible via smartphone and your PC, as well as posting pictures directly to Facebook, Picasa, or Flickr and movies directly to YouTube.

The built-in Wifi capabilities of the FX90 allows users to skip buying a Eye-Fi WiFi capable SD card and provide overall better integration of the wireless feature set.  The 802.11b/g/n internal capability of the camera allow it to connect to home networks as well as any WIFI-capable iOS or Android device.

Inside the FX90 boasts a 12.1 MP 1/2.33 inch CCD image sensor with 5x optical zoom and true optical image stabilization.  The effective zoom range is 24mm on the wide end to 120mm on the zoom.  Because the image stabilization is optical, Panasonic included an Active Mode option which provides correction even while shooting video.

Menu options are controlled via the 3 in LCD touch panel on the back, along with physical controls for zoom, shutter and movie recording.

Pricing and availability will be announced in early September.  Panasonic’s Lumix Club is expected to go online the first week of September as well.

The Yongnuo HN467 Speedlite

The Yongnuo YN467 - Decent flash, priced right
I investigated the Yongnuo Speedlite YN467 as an alternative to Canon Speedlites, which I jokingly call “Spendy-Lites”.  Jokes aside, the Canon Speedlites, like the 430EX ii and 580EX ii, are still the gold standard for external flash units to use with Canon products.
But the price tag. Ouch.  $270 for a 430EX ii and up to an eye-popping $468 for a 580EX ii.  For sure you get a lot of nice features for that kind of money.  Wireless e-TTL and Canon’s reputation for quality and reliability.  Every time you push the button, you’ll get fabulous results.
Still, the price point nagged at me, so I set out to investigate the alternatives and turned up a diamond in the rough. For just over $70, you can get a Yongnuo YN467, a very decent flash unit that’s compatible with Canon’s e-TTL, though you’ll have to use a sync cord if you want to use it off camera.  Even with the cord, the package comes in at less than $90.

I didn’t run a full scale flash test, just mounted it on the camera and shot some test shots to get the feel for the unit.  I wasn’t expecting much and was pleasantly surprised by the results.

YN467 Flash Text
YN467 off camera left with the aid of a FC-311 sync cord
The build quality is better than expected.  Solid, heavy and well fitted, it comes with a soft carry bag and table stand.  It’s got a built-in bounce card and flash diffuser.  When it comes to power, it will light up your life.  You might not get 250 feet outdoors like a 580EX, but I was able to blow out a large, dark interior pretty effectively.
The only ding on fit and finish is the battery compartment door which slides back and opens out feels a little flimsy.  It’s got a small plastic locking tab that looks like it would be easy to break.  I wouldn’t get in a hurry changing batteries.Where it counts, the YN467 works like a champ.  As soon as I mounted it on my 7D, the camera and flash synced up and worked together flawlessly.  Matched up with a $20 FC-311 cable by Pixel, Inc. I was able to hold the flash off to one side and still use the e-TTL features.  I wasn’t able to out run recycle times, even in burst mode.

This is not the flash unit I’d get for studio work, but then I wouldn’t use a 580EX for that, either.  For that I’d look at floor units like Paul C. Buff’s Alien Bees line.  But as an on-camera flash for $70, it’s tough to beat.