Wednesday, August 27, 2014

LG G3- The Landscape Photographer's Phone

I recently upgraded my phone to the new LG G3 and wow is it a great tool for the landscape photographer!

Sure smartphones have been around for a few years, and they have improved every generation, now this phone takes it to a new level.

I upgraded from an HTV Evo.  The 2010 Evo.  That was a great phone.  It had 4G two years before many other models did.  It had a 4.3" screen that was called "too big" by several reviewers.  It ran Android.  It had a decent, although slow, 8mp camera.

I loved the phone.  I even occasionally got some nice images from it.  I also owned a very good point and shoot camera-the Panasonic LX3.  Very small body, with a great 10mp sensor that shot RAW.  The Evo was ok, but the Panasonic was great as photographer.

The LX3 was so small it became my ultra portable camera, for times the DSLR (or 4x5) were just too much.  I liked it so much, I even did an article on it at Nature Photographer Network The Small Format Everyday Camera . The Evo was decent but there was no way I would ever have chosen it over the LX3.

The LG G3

That is all changed today.  The LG G3 has taken photography capability to a new level.  13mp image that is as good and often better than the LX3.  Laser auto-focus and image stabilization that gives a much faster shooting and image taking experience.  Add in apps like The Photographers Ephemeris, Snapseed and Pixlr Express and I now have a photography tool that makes me forget the LX3.  In fact it has been relegated to be the camera I keep in the glove box.

The LG G3 is always with me.  It has gotten me great images on bike rides, walking along the river, and even from the window of a plane.  It is great for snapping a quick picture of my dogs or a plate of tacos at Fuzzy's.

The shooting experience has greatly improved on phones.  Advances in sensor technology have made the results far beyond what they were just two years ago.  The sensor size is still very small but the results they can produce really wow me.  I can see why sales of point and shoot cameras have declined.  Why buy them when you can get 99% of the quality in a device that gets you so much more?  

Taking speed has also really improved. Early digital cameras had an horrible lag between pressing the button and the image being taken.  They improved that, but phones really languished behind.  The G3 has just a bit of a lag, especially in low light but it way faster than my old Evo and pretty close to most cameras.

The end result of faster focus and a better sensor is the taking experience is just plain better.  A camera is still more ergonomic and easier to hold but a phone is always with you and combines so many features, it really can be a single device solution.

Image quality is also significantly better.  I am really impressed with the images right out of camera.  Decent detail.  Does it match what my Canon 5D Mark II can do?  No.  But it is not supposed to either.  Can it match my LX3?  Yes.  It often exceeds it.

The in camera HDR is good enough it almost makes me forget RAW.  Almost.  I can take an image with the in camera HDR, tweak it in Snapseed and be very happy with the results.  In my Google+ stream I have placed several shots comparing the results from the G3 against the 5D2, my Sony NEX6, the Panasonic LX3, and even my Nexus 7 and an iPad 2. 

I use the full 13mp mode.  That puts the image into a 3:4 format that I really like.  Fits closer to the standard print sizes (even though I may never print them) and reminds me of the 4x5 format.  I think that also lets you work more with the center of lens as the corners seem sharper than the 16:9 wide angle view at 10mp.

Say "smile" "cheese" or "whiskey" to take an image. Simple.

Want to do a selfie, it has a great way to get a timer by making a fist.  Easy.

The Total Package
The G3 really shines.  Great images.  Great in daylight.  Decent in low light.  Good color and detail.  An all round good performer.

A great taking experience and a camera that delivers great results.  Look at your images on the Quad HD screen-wow they look great.

Into video-record in 4K.

Add in LTE connectivity and you can share your images as fast as you take them.

Final Verdict
Awesome phone!  Everything I was hoping for and then some.  My new pocket and everywhere camera.  Great for the landscape images I like and do.  

All the images here are from the G3 and if any processing was done, was done on the phone.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Emerald Coast Morning

In May, I had the opportunity to visit South Walton County, Florida and spend a few days relaxing on the Emerald Coast.  Soft white sand, clear blue-green water, and plenty of sun.  About perfect for a beach vacation.

Also pretty good ingredients for a photograph.

I would be up early and have the whole beach to myself.  I could watch the night fade into morning, hear the surf, and roam the beach looking for images.

Here are a few from a mostly clear morning where I went out to the beach with my camera and tripod to try and bring back an image.  I was there early.  The stars are just fading into the now blue night sky.  I set up my little Sony NEX6 on my tiny Sirui 025-X tripod with my Rokinon Fisheye lens.  This is a great travel kit and one that lets me pack a pretty powerful kit into a small bundle.  It is ideal for those times I am not really photographing.

Here on the beach, I wanted to capture the breadth of the sky, water, and sand.  I set the lens so the horizon was close to the middle of the frame, this gives you a very wide image with no fisheye bulge on your horizon line.  Instead you get the curved beach at your feet, so you still know its a fisheye, but it makes the view more like being there.

At first the exposures were long.  I photographed both up and down the beach, but the image I liked best was this view looking straight out into the Gulf of Mexico. Image above.

Later I moved around looking for a good foreground and found this small stream of water that was left from high tide and was draining back into the gulf.  I framed it up and grabbed this shot as the light rose in the sky. Image at the top.

I had a few shots I liked and it was not even breakfast time-what a great way to start the day.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nolan River Nightscape

Exploring the Nolan River has been one my main photography projects over the last year or so.  The Nolan is a small short river that maybe covers 50 miles over it's entire length running through Johnson and Hill Counties before it empties into the Brazos at Lake Whitney.

It is a place that, in essence, few people see and no one photographs.  

It is however, close to home.  In an hour or less I can be at any spot along the river.  That gives me a chance to make it a Saturday morning destination.  It is one I have visited on a regular basis for the last 15 months.

The river is small, in some place, not much more than a creek.  It often has a rock or rocky bed.  It flows past a few bluffs.  It also has one last key piece-a few places you can access it.

River beds are public land in Texas.  River banks are not. So access without trespassing is tough, but I know just a few places where I can access the river by bridges and photograph it.

This summer I have been visiting every weekend near the new moon to work on Milky Way images.  The Nolan has pretty dark sky for being only 50 miles from Dallas-Fort Worth.  It helps that down in the river one can see no lights.

To photograph the Milky Way that usually means leaving at 2AM, which puts me in the river by 3 and I photograph until the Milky Way fades or the sun comes up.  It depends on the clouds if I stay for sunrise.

Normally, Texas summers are too hot, too clear, and too green for landscape photography.  Nightscapes open up a whole new possibility as those clear skies are perfect for the stars, and the temps are much more tolerable.

Every month, the Milky Way has moved higher and farther west in the sky.  I have been there every new moon weekend and luckily I have been able to get some nice images and follow it across the sky.

I have been light painting the bluff and letting it stay dark.  Luckily being limestone, it picks up the dim starlight well and has some definition even in the dark.  

I work one particular section of the river where there is a nice east-west view along a bluff and the river then bends more north-south too which lets me have some different angles.

There are many compositions that I have tried, but find I keep coming back to the same 3-4 which really jump out at me.

Most mornings I can visit all of them, although I find the 2-3 hours I photograph in the river goes by very quick.

These are some of my favorites over the last four new moons.  You will notice the images put the Milky Way in different spots over the bluff or river, with June and July giving me perfect placement for the down river shot.

I hope to get in a couple of more mornings this season and might even try a sunset in the fall in this spot.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Wildflowers of a Texas Spring

As April slipped past I kept making journeys looking for bluebonnets and other wildflowers.  I would start the day at a known sunrise spot and then drive looking for other locations.  Here are a couple of those other locations we drove past one morning.  The sun was already bright and there were just a few clouds.  Not the most ideal conditions for landscape photography, but finding the flowers made up for that.

Here are two locations we found near Waxahachie, Texas late one morning while exploring some side roads on the way to lunch.

The big trees in a field are always a favorite of mine and taking in the big view is something else I do like to do for a photograph.  The yellow flowers compliment the green of the grass and blue of the sky.

We drove on and found an incredible field of bluebonnets.  It was acres and acres of flowers.  This was a great find.  Unfortunately one I would not be able to return to in the 2014 season.

I will have to file away the location for 2015 and plan to spend a sunrise here!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Spring Wildflowers

This was a good spring for wildflowers. The bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush made their annual return to Texas and the countryside was full of color.

It was a good spring, but it was tough for photography.  The first two weeks of April it was overcast every chance I had with the camera.  That can work for sometimes for daytime images but I was hoping for a great landscape at sunrise image and that did not happen until the third weekend.  

I visited a few of my favorite spots and also went to investigate several spots I had viewed as potential locations on Google Maps.  I had found what looked like four potential spots for a good photograph with views, however all four locations had no flowers. 

I explored a few other possibilities but kept going by my favorite spots.

Here are a few from my drives of the flowers along the hillsides.