Monday, May 4, 2009

Life through a Fisheye

So, I’ve been getting questions from my clients on why I’ve been out of town more these days. Aside from teaching my visual story telling workshops, which keeps me on the road mostly in the summer, teaching my on-line course and my usual out of town assignments, I’ve been working on a very cool project with a friend Logan. He is a documentary filmmaker and has been working on a film for the Imax Theaters. The working title is “The Sky Lines of Texas”. The project showcases the amazing environment and skies throughout the state. The project is due to be completed in the next nine months.

My self-portrait using a full 180 degree fisheye lens on a still camera.

Logan is a good friend and from time to time he helps me shoot and edit my own tutorials for my workshops and talks. We meet often to share ideas and talk about concepts for upcoming projects. When discussing his upcoming Imax film he told me his ideas and ask for some direction on cool Texas locations. He mentioned the problem of shooting so many locations in the limited time he would have access to the rented camera gear and crew needed to shoot such a project.

I mentioned my ability to shoot interval-timed exposures. This means that my still camera can be set-up to shoot an image every 1 to 15 seconds for as long as you have card space. This was great news to Logan. It meant he could focus on shooting the motion stuff while I did the still time lapse images. Definitely more bang for the buck! The idea was to use the still images along with the motion images together in the final film. Another reason this plan was so perfect is because it helped Logan keep the crew small and efficient allowing quick movement from location to location. Often only staying in one area long enough to capture a sunset then moving to another location to capture a sunrise. The gear used to make an Imax film is very expensive that means “ time is money”!

Logan with one of two digital cameras used to make the "Skylines of Texas"

This project is for the Imax dome theaters, which presented a challenge. My still camera would need to have a complete 180-degree lens, which is a very specialized 4mm lens and not often used. In fact as far as we could tell, never used for an Imax film. After a few calls to the larger rental houses, no one was able to help which says a lot because DFW has some of the best gear rentals houses in the country. Logan had better luck and found out that the lens used for the Imax camera is a Nikon mount. Turns out this lens is a rare piece of glass and is made in small factory in Japan. We're were able to get our hands on a second 180 lens for my camera and we hit the road.

This is a raw unedited sample of some of the recent images we've shot. I have to say I'm very impressed with Logan. In the first place this 20 something guy is completely self taught, an amazing director, producer and shooter. In the next place he was able to rework the still images from my camera and correct the perspective to a normal lens. You'll see the original capture in the top of the frame as you view the images.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean


The Camera Fanatic said...

Outstanding blog. My personal favorite camera is the Canon PowerShot SD1100IS. I wrote a review for it, please let me know what you think:

UPDATE: This camera is currently on sale at Amazon. You can find the link here:

If you need a solid, reliable, and stylish point-and-shoot ultracompact digital camera that produces high-quality images, then the new Canon PowerShot SD1100IS may be right for you.

I am an advanced amateur photographer and own 2 Canon digital cameras (G2 and 20D). Both have served me well over the years but recently I have found myself needing a decent ultracompact camera that I can easily carry with me at all times for unexpected photo-ops.

Other current Canon models that I also researched before my purchase of the "bohemian brown" SD1100IS included the SD950IS and the SD1000.

Here is my take on the SD1100IS:

- 8MP CCD sensor with DigicIII processor (excellent resolution images with good dynamic range)
- Solid construction (most of body made of anodized aluminum)
- Feels sturdy and well-balanced in the hands
- Easy to use (logical user-interface) with minimal need to consult owner's manual for basic operation
- Multiple shooting modes to fit variety of situations (action/sports mode is a glaring omission but read section below to see possibly why)
- Advanced metering system with accurately exposed pics in even "tricky" situations (great balance of highlights and shadows)
- Tack-sharp images (much more so with sufficient lighting and use of built-in flash)
- Macro mode can result in stunning close-ups with outstanding level of detail
- Optical IS feature helpful when shooting in either low-light conditions with flash off or at telephoto lengths
- Fast start-up with acceptable shutter-lag (when not using flash)
- Bright 2.5" LCD monitor (100% coverage, 230k pixels) made of polycrystalline silicon; fairly scratch-resistant (can't vouch if this applies to keys and coins)
- Optical viewfinder (though only a tiny peephole, it is essential when LCD glare and washout become an issue shooting in bright sunlight or when LCD cannot be used as battery power is nearly depleted)
- Camera made in Japan (at least those from the 1st shipment; this easily may be subject to change)

- Lack of manual control over aperture, shutter speed, and focusing (for the obssessive control-freaks)
- Noise is noticeable beginning at ISO 400 (ISO 800 still useable but probably for only 4x6 images; ISO 1600 mostly unuseable)
- Fastest shutter speed is 1/1500 sec (not fast enough to stop action for some sporting activities)
- Auto-focus speed inadequate to follow fast-moving subjects
- Shutter-lag accentuated with flash on (precious Canon moments lost while waiting for flash to recharge)
- Cannot adjust focus or optical zoom while shooting in movie mode (focus is fixed for distance selected at first frame, and digital zoom is permitted instead, resulting in significant image quality deterioration)
- Battery/memory card cover and hinge made of plastic (no safety latch that needs to be de-activated first before sliding cover out, in order to prevent accidental opening)
- Minor vignetting and chromatic aberration (albeit, difficult not to expect from compact p&s)
- Pincushion and barrel distortion at the extremes of the focal lengths
- No RAW shooting mode

Battery power in camera mode with LCD monitor on is mostly as advertised, allowing for approximately 240 images. If your budget permits, I recommend investing in a few spare batteries as backups and replacing the supplied 32MB memory card with a pair of 4GB SDHC memory cards--vital purchases if you plan to use the movie mode frequently.

Overall Impression:
Even with some serious limitations inherent to virtually all digital cameras in this class, I am recommending the Canon PowerShot SD1100IS. It does what it's supposed to do. This camera allows one to take beautiful photographs in an ultracompact, reliable, and elegant device that is both easy and fun to use.

Mike McLean said...

Camera Fanatic Thanks for your support, Great review of the PowerShot SD1100IS ! I'm heading to your blog to read more.