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Review: Manfrotto 322RC2 Horizontal Grip Action Ball Head

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The 322RC2 Ball Head and rapid connect plate,used in combination with a decent set of tripod legs (for example, Bogen Manfrotto 190XPROB) are a profound step up from the all-in-one tripods you may be used to. Even more importantly, they are a step up from most other ball heads by virtue of the immense improvement in both speed and ease of aiming your camera once actually mounted to the ball head. I can’t emphasize this enough: This product actually changes how you use your camera, because repositioning the camera on all axis at once is a one hand, fraction of a second operation.

I know that’s hard to visualize, so let me describe the process. The head has a handle sticking out the side, quite substantial and comfortable, that fits in your hand (right or left, your choice.) On this handle is a very large “trigger” that fits beneath all of your fingers as they wrap around the handle. When you pull this trigger, the ball head releases your camera and you can move it, using the handle as a precise and ergonomic lever, to any new position you like in no more time than it takes to adjust your wrist and arm – essentially immediately. Then you simply let go of the trigger and the ball head locks the camera right where you have it pointed.

The process I just described applies equally to large pans and tilts as it does to tiny pointing adjustments. If you find that difficult to believe, I’m with you – so did I – but having used the head extensively, trust me, it really works as advertised.
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Review: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens

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The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lensis a moderate weight (15 oz), very well built lens. It does not come with the appropriate hood, the Canon ET-65 III. You get both a lens cap and a mount cap, all packed inside tight conformal foam to protect the lens during shipping. There’s also a very brief manual and the usual warranty paperwork.

The lens offers AF and manual focus, and allows manual focus even when AF is set to on, a very useful feature for low-light and other challenging focus situations. This is a USM lens, and as a direct consequence focus is fast and precise, just as you’d expect.

The AF/Manual switch is in a reasonable location, close to the camera body. There is a range indication on the barrel of the lens behind a transparent window which serves to keep dust and debris out of the workings of the lens. Manual focus is controlled with a broad, easy to manage textured ring about mid-body on the lens. During focus, nothing external on the lens body moves or rotates, so there are no complications for using polarizing filters, and no concerns about the lens “pumping” air and so causing dust contamination in either the lens or camera with use.
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So I sent my camera off to be modified…

…for hydrogen-alpha infrared. This mod will give it about 3.5 times the sensitivity to the glow of emission nebulas, and so enhance my ability to shoot astro photos.

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Astrotrac — Adding tracking to Astrophotography

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So, after a couple of years of working with untracked astro photo techniques, and a fair amount of success, I finally gave in and got a tracking system. I went with the Astrotrac because of the advertised light weight, easy setup, and long, accurate tracking capability (2 hours, advertised.)

I’d seen some pretty spectacular astro photos, considerably better than mine. So I bit.
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Pixels Per Planet

In a fit of doing something that will be useful to almost no one, anywhere, I have created a calculator page that will tell you how many pixels a solar system planet, or an object of your own choosing, will consume in your final DSLR image.

In order to figure this out, you tell the calculator just a little bit about your camera, your lens system, and optionally, an object of particular interest to you.

If you actually use this thing, let me know in the comments. I suspect that I may, just possibly, get one comment. From me.

Here’s the calculator page.

…and of course, if you find any bugs, let me know.

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Untangling FOV and "reach" for Canon Camera Bodies

A lot of people seem to be quite confused about the idea of camera “reach.” This idea relates to how much variance in magnification you actually get between different camera bodies. I thought I’d take a few minutes to clear this up once and for all. I assure you the following information explains the issue correctly. Once you’ve read and understood this post, you’ll have a perfect understanding of reach.

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EOS 40D to EOS 50D changes – All of them – In a Nutshell

For most 40D owners, the issue is simply: What has changed? I took a hard look at Canon’s specifications, press releases, and an early preview, and here’s the scoop:

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Canon leaks EOS50D details

Canon’s successor to the EOS40D is now a matter of public record.

The most important issue for me as an EOS40D owner is the degree of light sensitivity the new model camera offers; the 40D goes to ISO 1600 and will “push” to ISO 3200. The 50D goes to ISO 3200 and will “push” to ISO 12800, which is a huge improvement, particularly for wide-field astro photography which is an interest of mine, but also for low-light shooting in general. Higher ISO capabilities extend the range of situations any lens can be used in, a very welcome upgrade.

Among the sample images is one of a race car that was shot at ISO 1600; examining the dark areas of the shot, much less noise is evident than I would have expected based on my experience with the 40D. This is hugely encouraging.

The leak exposed a number of photos and diagrams that relate directly to the EOS50D; you can view those here, in a new flickr group I’ve created to support the camera and its users.

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