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A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about a friendly face from the past. We knew her as Aunt Rita – an artist, a wife, a mother, a world traveler, an adventurer and a lovely woman.

Aunt Rita and her family lived on a Chinese junk, The Amoy which was moored in the harbor of New Rochelle (NY), a few blocks from where we lived.

Since my article appeared, I’ve had several email exchanges with Aunt Rita’s family which in turn made me go hunting for this classic painting that she gifted to my mother years ago.

I remember her painting vividly since it decorated our childhood home for many years. And when my folks moved to their new home, the painting was part of their spare bedroom.

Aunt Rita, Mom, my sisters and me

These photos are a pleasant way to enjoy the people and events from days gone by. Photos such as these should be a constant reminder to share your memories with others. Yes, photos matter.
Written by Arnie Lee


A Long Lens Story

12th June 2013

Avoiding the $8,500 shock

Those of us who like to hunt wildlife with a camera know that you can never have enough mm of lens. But sticker shock kicks in when you look at the prices for a fast super-telephoto lens. Last year I made it a high priority to seek out an alternative way to acquire one of these highly sought after gems and ended up with a prized lens at a bargain basement price.

My lucky catch doesn’t have the features of late model glass, but neither does it doesn’t carry an $8,500 price tag. Instead of the a brand spanking new 400mm f/2.8 with auto focusing and vibration reduction I picked up a used 400mm f/3.5 manual focus lens. As you’ll see, although it lacks the convenience of the high price spread, it performs very well for my type of shooting. And at a price of about $600, it is a steal. If you’re a lover of long lenses that isn’t willing to take a mortgage out to buy one, follow along to see if the used lens approach can satisfy your equipment wants.

To be exact, my “find” is a Nikkor ED IF AI-S 400mm f/3.5 lens. There are no marks or scratches on any of the lens surfaces. The lens body shows heavy wear and a few scratches to the paint. It has a tripod collar, a built-in lens hood and accepts affordable 39mm drop-in filters or expensive very 122mm external filters.

Mechanically, this lens has high quality optics; manual internal focusing (lens barrel does not extend or retract as it is focused) and automatic indexing so that the camera can determine the aperture setting.

To try out the lens, I mounted it on a Nikon D600 body. Notice the white dot on the lens.

Simply line up the white dot on the lens with the white dot on the camera body and twist counter-clockwise.

This monster of a lens weighs more than 6 pounds. You won’t want to handhold this camera and lens combo for very long.

While it is possible to mount this combo directly onto a tripod, a more practical solution is to use a gimbal mount.

Here’s one that I use.

Using the tripod collar on the lens, the combo is screwed onto the gimbal. The gimbal itself is mounted and balanced onto the tripod.

With the arrangement, you can now frictionlessly tilt, swivel and pan the camera and lens combo to take aim of your subject.

There’s one final step to complete before we can use this older lens with a newer camera body.

Newer Nikkor lenses owe their intelligence to a tiny CPU which controls the exposure settings. Since this lens does not have a CPU, you must “register” this lens to the camera by setting its maximum (widest) aperture. The Tools menu has an item for doing this.

Having registered the lens, there are two options for setting the exposure: ‘M” manual, where you set both the shutter speed and aperture or “A” aperture priority, where you set the aperture and the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed.

In either case, you rotate the aperture ring on the lens to the desired lens opening. In “M” mode, you also dial in the camera shutter speed. In “A” mode, the camera automatically sets the shutter speed.

You’re all set to take aim, carefully focus and fire away. Here’s a few of my first shots with the lens.

This photo is a full frame capture of a colorful duck. The lens’ large focusing ring lets me easily bring things into sharp focus.

To give you an idea of the quality of the lens, this is an enlargement of the duck’s head taken from the photo on the left.

How sharp is this lens? Full frame shot at f/5.6.

The enlargement here looks pretty sharp to me.

In this comparison of the same capture at f/3.5 and f/5.6 you’ll see a noticeable drop in sharpness when using the widest opening. The lesson for me: stop down to achieve the sharpest photographs.

At first I was a little hesitant about buying an older lens without the autofocus and autoexposure features that I’ve come to expect from newer lenses. After all, this lens comes from the early 1980s; isn’t it obsolete? Now that I’ve had some positive experience, I realize that quality equipment lasts for many years.

I feel that I hit the jackpot with this lens at a great price. Now I’m hoping to find some time to capture many more birds in the future.
Written by Arnie Lee
NOTE: While this article featured Nikon equipment, I’m hoping to look for similar money-saving angles for my Canon equipment.


In Search of Nemo

11th June 2013

Underwater Photography – Blllllrrrrrpppp!

For those of us who spend their winters in the frigid cold, surrounded by ice and snow for months at a time, a visit to the tropics is a blessing. To me, the mention of the tropics brings warmth and water to mind. And that’s precisely what we were after when we booked a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii.

The weather there is predictably warm so it’s easy to pack: a couple of bathing suits, a few pairs of shorts and several shirts. And don’t forget the snorkeling equipment! As an avid picture-taker, my luggage also includes a camera or two so that I can record the events that we may encounter.

The least enjoyable part of the trip is getting there. It’s an all day affair starting with a short hop from our home in Grand Rapids to Chicago followed by a very long, 9-hour flight from Chicago to Honolulu.

Clouds covered most of the flight path to the islands. These sparkling beaches of Oahu (to the right) are about the only sites that we see along the way and this only upon leaving Honolulu on a 45 minute connecting flight to Kona.

And owing to a six hour time difference, we arrive in time for dinner.

Being in the middle of the Pacific, there’s water galore everywhere. The next morning, with our snorkeling gear in tow we head down to one of the local beaches.

For this trip, I’ve taken a camera that can be used underwater. I’ve never invested the thousands of dollars needed for a “real” underwater outfit, but this Olympus Tough 6000 will do the trick.

The Big Island is surrounded by shallow reefs lined with coral. Many of the popular beaches attract bathers for this exact reason. The coral is teeming with tropical fish and wildlife just a few feet below the water’s surface.

Without heavy scuba equipment and expensive deep water photo gear, my small, relatively inexpensive camera makes it possible for me to record these amazing wonders of the ocean. Here’s some of my “catch” made simply by gently kicking my flippers, goggles and snorkel facing downward and camera in hand.

Colorful sea anemone among the coral.

We even spotted this mermaid among the coral!

Big Island Turtle – my wife captured this short video of a turtle that was swimming nearby.

A lovely sunset on the Big Island

So I returned home with a slight tan, a relaxed body and a nice set of photos of some spectacularly colorful fish. Of course these photos aren’t of the same quality that you’d expect from a full-blown underwater outfit. But I’m happy just the same having recorded some of nature’s gorgeous water landscapes with a very affordable camera.
Written by Arnie Lee