This blog is my attempt to keep track of some of the things I learn along the way, with my Canon 7D, G12 and accessories. All images copyright Brad Calkins, not to be used without permission (or purchase). I do not attempt to monetize my blog, other than to promote my stock photo portfolio on Dreamstime.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Yesterday I had what must be my best day ever in stock photography - at least in terms of sales. 42 different downloads! Everything from crinkled paper, to a chocolate bunny went home with a lucky buyer...and my personal favorite - a VCR tape from a friends house:

VHS Tape

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lens reviews

I'm a big fan of looking into a purchase as much as possible, but how do you know who to trust or what to pay attention to? Here are some tips for wading through the murky world of online lens reviews:

1. Screen shots. You can't really trust jpgs posted online for review. There are just way too many factors that go into compressing and uploading to sites and the final quality. It is far more important to pay attention to what the reviewer says about the product that the actual images. Any lens can produce an image that looks good at 640x480 resolution.
2. Is the reviewer a photographer, or a reviewer (or both)? If they are a reviewer getting paid to do reviews or supplied products to review their impression of a new piece of equipment is limited to a short amount of time with it. It is important to ask yourself if they took photos with it that will be similar to your subjects.
3. Test charts don't tell the whole story. Sharpness is just one of many aspects of a lens' performance. CA, fringing, vignetting (dark corners), distortion and bokeh are just a few of the optical properties of a lens. Quality of manufacture, AF performance, maximum aperture, zoom creep, minimum focus distance, weight, and other physical factors add to the list. My personal experience with lenses is that the black and white test charts may be the worst place to start when evaluating a lens. Some would argue that only prints tell the final story, but if you submit to stock sites then how it performs on screen at 100% is important.
4. Sample variation. If you get into reading reviews you will ultimately hear about how a lens has varying quality, that you may need to test 3 or 4 copies of a lens at the store to find a good one, etc. There is clearly some variation between lenses, and that is too be expected as a manufacturer can't have perfect calibration. There are small variances in the alignment of the camera body (mirror, AF unit, sensor) as well as the lenses calibration. Hence why modern bodies allow the user to adjust things. But that isn't the whole story. You have to learn how to use a wide aperture lens, for example. You may be used to locking focus with the centre AF point and recomposing - that may be fine at f/5.6, but with an f/1.2 lens wide open you may move a little while recomposing and throw things way off. Another catch is people who shoot the ruler on an angle to determine front or back focus - the AF point isn't exact either. I did a recent test with my 40D where I focused on a spot on a plain wall and it was still hitting focus on the spot with it completely outside the AF point in the viewfinder...
5. Expectations. When recently looking for a wider (28-35mm prime) I found that just about every lens reviewed had the comment "we expect more from a prime lens". It just turns out to be hard to make a wider angle lens that is optically good from f/1.4 to f/16!

My personal take on this topic is that you should read the optical reviews and see what they say - if you can't find anything positive that is probably a good indication. Then take a look in Flickr groups for the lens, and see what kinds of shots people are taking with the lens in question. That says a lot to me... Certain lenses just have galleries full of shots you wished you'd taken, and others are a bunch of ho hum shots with people gushing over them - those are the lenses I try to avoid :) Bottom line - don't take it too seriously as there is no perfect lens. Here are some sites to try:


RAW = Copyright?

Boys at school
There is a lot of talk on stock photo sites about whether you can prove ownership/copyright if you sell the RAW files. A second issue is whether it is worth selling the RAW files to subscribers to sites (who may pay the same small fee for a RAW file as a tiny JPG).

The copyright issue revolves around the idea that selling the RAW file is like selling your negative - now the person holding the RAW "negative" can prove they took the jpg, just like the original photographer can. While this would certainly complicate a legal battle, my guess is that you would still win the case. The RAW file has embedded information about the camera and lens used that one could presumably prove you owned at the time, or the photographer can 'prove' they took the photo by showing others taken at the same time. The latter strategy helps jpg only shooters too. There is nothing that says you have to shoot RAW to win a copyright case. That said, I have a simple solution for people who do want to increase their stock photo revenue by selling RAW files - convert the RAW files to DNG and post those. Keep the native manufacturer's RAW files for yourself only. Since going to DNG is a one way process (you can't go from DNG to the native RAW file) you still retain the ability to show proof of the original RAW file - just make sure you don't select the option to include the native file when you do the conversion! This has a secondary benefit too - you increase the chances that a buyer owns software that can do the conversion, a problem for anyone using a very new camera.

The 2nd issue is whether selling a RAW is worth it. I sell RAW files on Dreamstime and have probably only sold 5 RAW files for full value. When that happens it seems worth it as you can get $10-$15 for a sale. The rest usually go for $0.42 (I'm exclusive) - though DT changed the pricing this year so level 3-5 files sell for $0.84 or $1.26. What selling RAW files do on Dreamstime is raise the level of the file. I have had many buyers buy both the large jpg and the RAW - double the dollars earned for that sale and boosting future revenue as well. Finally, on Dreamstime a buyer can search for files with a RAW option - in many cases I feel this helps a buyer find your file. They may not actually buy the RAW option, but they may get to you in the first place becuase of it - think of it as another way of increasing exposure.

Cubed beef
What I don't understand are those who are selling stock who feel the low subscription prices aren't good value for the RAW file. I'm producing content to sell to buyers who need photos - and many of those are graphics editors who will want to process the files themselves to get the highest quality result. How can I shoot RAW, argue that you should shoot RAW to maximize quality, and then expect the buyer to make do with an 8-bit jpg processed on my potentially uncalibrated monitor?

I think the answer lies in your motives for doing stock. If you are spending hours submersed in a pool of water to get a shot of lions feeding on the shore you probably won't be happy with a $0.50 sale (RAW or JPG) - and probably shouldn't be selling it as stock in the first place. If you are happy getting $0.25 for a large quality jpg, why do you care if the buyer pays the same for the RAW file? They want to publish it - give them the quality they want!

If your focus is on Art - and your final image presentation is very important to you I can see why you might not want someone processing your original RAW file and then crediting you, but then I don't see why you would sell your files as stock in the first place since there is nothing stopping someone from doing a bad job post processing your jpgs...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Sony NEX cameras

Today there are some previews and reviews of the new Sony cameras with a larger format senor in a compact body. The field is getting pretty full, with almost everyone except Canon, Nikon and Pentax having offerings in the mirror-less segment. What is most curious to me is how Sony made the publicity photos such that they almost emphasize how big the cameras are rather than how small - why have a large zoom mounted and then use a closeup shot to make it look even bigger?

I'm not getting rid of the GF1 anytime soon - these new cameras are interesting, but the jump from a 1/1.7" CCD to micro four/thirds was big, but from there to APS-C just isn't that huge. I'm happy with the quality/size ratio of micro 4/3. It also has the advantage of adapters being out there for just about every manual focus lens ever made. Once again, I was happy when I popped my GF1 into my coat pocket.

Monday, May 10, 2010

5,000 sales!

I finally hit 5,000 sales yesterday evening - I've had this number in sight for a long time now. Here is the image that rolled me over:

Boy looking out window

In some respects, getting here seemed kind of inevitable - with 300-400 sales a month it is a matter of time. On the other hand, nothing is for sure and those sales were the result of hard work up front - building up a portfolio of almost 2,000 images. There is no free lunch in stock, but it does show that you can get significant revenue from stock if you set your mind to it. I'm at the point where I'd need to work more than 60 hours a month at a minimum wage job to get the same income - and I like doing this a whole lot more :)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Micro 4/3 advantage

My brother in law recently purchased a Canon S90, and I was interested to see how the current state of the art in higher end compact cameras compared to my GF1. The S90 has some great features, and I would argue it is easier to use than my GF1... I've felt that the GF1 has significantly more satisfying results on screen at 100%. I do a lot of my work on screen, and sell stock so the pixel level does matter for that. In actual prints I would be happy with the S90 for most things. I did a quick shot in the yard today to compare then on a bright sunny day which puts the S90 in its best light (pun intended). Since I do a lot of work with the GF1 at low ISO for stock, it is only fair to compare it to the S90 at that setting.

I used to have a Canon G10, and often felt that areas in photos were mushy. Something like blades of grass or tree limbs would look great, but faces, singles on a roof or moderately busy areas didn't quite have the detail I can get out of a DSLR. I felt the same way looking at the S90. Looks great on review, nice prints, great for computer viewing, etc. - but lacking a bit at 100%. Below is a crop midway to the border of an image. Not a strict test, to be sure, but it shows what I consistently find when editing photos later. Just a bit mushier - look at the bench texture. Keep in mind that the GF1 is almost 3 times the price, and double the volume. I'd be very happy with the S90 if I didn't do stock. Note that the lens on my GF1 is the excellent 20mm prime compared to the S90's zoom. There is no doubt that the GF1 suits my needs well, and was worth the extra dollars to me. For my brother in law? The S90 fits the bill nicely too. Everybody's happy :)
Please don't take this comparison to the nth degree - the key here is that this is representative of results that I get with my camera... I wouldn't notice the difference in a 5x7 print done at a lab with these two cameras. Note the sensor size difference made me use a more open aperture on the S90 to avoid diffraction... Both are stopped down somewhat from their maximum apertures.