Monday, November 29, 2010

Gallery at Fair Lakes: Employee Show!

Employee Gallery at Penn Fair Lakes
Penn Camera Fair Lakes
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Now on display thru January! A very special showing of employee images in Penn Camera Fair Lakes.

Join us for a highly diverse showing of employee images in the Fair Lakes store. One of the things that separates Penn Camera Employees from our rivals in other stores is that many of us are real photographers.

Gaze with wonder upon a country road that leads to points left only to the imagination, look with nostalgia upon a venerable Stearman Biplane as it taxis by, see a classic example of why a Holga in the hands of an artist is not just a toy camera, and feel the emotional power as a WWII veteran looks upon the Vietnam wall. These are just some of images on display in Penn Camera Fair Lakes right now.

By Bill Moravek

By Joe Martin

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DC's Hidden Gems - Part 1

By Chip Lenkiewicz, Penn Camera Tysons Corner
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It is really great living and working here in the DC area. So much to do in just a few hours drive - North, South, East or West. Yet some of the best things are closer by as gas prices inch ever upwards. One of those gems is the United States Botanic Garden (100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20001); right next door to the National Museum of the American Indian.

This place is a macro photographer/plant lover's paradise. It had been a number of years since I was last the the USBG. It had closed a few years back for a much needed renovation. In the process of the renovation, they added an outdoor garden.

On my recent visit there, I was treated to an upcoming exhibit of DC and international landmarks made out of botanical elements. It officially opens at or around Thanksgiving Day and runs thru January 2nd, 2011. A wonderful Holiday treat for young and old alike.

A few tips based on my recent visit... BIG thing... dress in layers. Botanical gardens are basically lavish greenhouses. So being able to shed layers of clothing and have a spot for them is a good thing. Next is that tripods and monopods are not allowed - unless you get a permit. Plan on going back at different times of year, and different times of day - DUH! As any macro photographer will tell you. The other tip is to allow your gear to get used to the temperature differences. Sometimes a simple micro-fiber cloth across the filter will be enough - unless you are coming in from the cruel November temps we have been having of late.

Otherwise take lots of pictures...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tamrac Rally 5 Camera Bag - iPad Users Take Note!

By Chip Lenkiewicz, Penn Camera Tysons Corner
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When our local Tamrac rep showed me the Tamrac Rally 5, and mentioned that it could handle an Apple iPad or a netbook - I immediately got my iPad in the Apple case out to try if for fit. And it was perfect!

I have tried to find the perfect camera bag for lugging my Olympus E-PL1 kit around with my iPad in tow. Yet most bags I came across were for 13" laptops and much too big for my E-PL1 gear.

My list of everyday gear is below, and I can fit all of it (relatively comfortably) in the Rally 5.

  • E-PL1 with the Olympus Zuiko m43 14-150 (hood reversed) and the VF-2 EVF finder attached with a couple spare batteries
  • Olympus Zuiko m43 9-18 (hood attached)
  • Olympus Zuiko 43 50mm/2.0 Macro with the MMF-1 adapter attached and the hood reversed (on loan for testing - thinking I want to add this as my macro and fast portrait lens as well as macro work)
  • Panasonic 20mm/1.7 (my low light "normal" lens)
  • Lensbaby Composer in Nikon mount (hold over from my Nikon kit) with the Promaster m43 to Nikon adapter in a Lensbaby Composer case
  • Lensbaby pouch containing the Lensbaby .6 wide angle/macro converter with the Lensbaby apertures and aperture installer
  • Olympus FL-36R flash with spare batteries with a Stofen Dome attached (sometimes I like to have a less harsh flash than the pop-up gives - and the EP-L1 allows for the pop-up to be used as a wireless flash as well)
  • Circular Polarizing filters for the 14-150 and 9-18 lens
  • Apple iPad with the camera connection kit

All the above fits well with space to spare for small things like my iPhone earbuds, cleaning cloth, and such. And it all comes in at just over 6 pounds! Add my favorite travel tripod - Tamrac Zipshot - to the handle at the top of the bag; and I am still under 7 pounds. So as one can see the Rally 5 has space to spare.

Overall, this is a good-looking bag, and is a messenger bag style - it doesn't scream camera bag. And at its price point, it is very well built. The wide strap is comfortable on long days out. Side expandable pockets work well for the small things that you might need ready access to instead of opening the main bag. Sometimes camera bags offer too many pockets and pouches. In the end this one had just the right amount.

Some may read the above gear and wonder how it all works in the end... sounds kinda of cramped for the above gear. And yes it can be for my regular kit; but not for the way I work. I want a bag that I can travel with (read: get on an airplane) in minimal space, yet offer me the ability to have what I think I might need once I get there.

The way I work is that once I get to where I am going, the camera and my lens choice of the moment is around my neck. That is when the camera bag becomes my staging area. And that is where the Rally 5 bag stood out on a recent outing. It was small enough to handle what I wanted to use; but big enough once I got the E-PL1 out of the way to get access to my lenses and gear that I needed. It also had the pockets I needed to stuff things away when going in and out of museums here in DC.

Others may wonder why carry an iPad along. With the Apple Camera Connection Kit I am able to download my images on the go. With some of the apps I can do some basic edits (and more) and share them instantly. A few months back, I did a day trip to the National Arboretum in the morning; and later in the day over brunch with friends I was able to share pics from that day over brunch! There are times also that I do solo travel.

About 4 years ago or so - did a trip to SF by myself. Five days on my own. A total photography trip! Wish I had the iPad back then. The ability to stop and have a meal and review my images would have been nice. As well as being able to do searches that can be painful even on the likes of an iPhone. Sometimes it is nice to break out from the photographer mode and just catch up on news or a good book as well.

Things that I would have liked to have seen are maybe are a small zipper pocket on the main flap. Would be a great place to stow a P&S camera. And would have been nice to have seen an attachment loop at the base or side of the bag for ZipShot tripod or a water bottle with a hook.

In the end the Rally 5 and the rest of the Tamrac Rally series bags are well worth a look. Do want folks to know that (sort of required under new laws about blogging and such), that I bought this bag for review. And it is a keeper for me.... may end up replacing my other favorite bags - the Crumpler Million Dollar Home bags....

Camera Review: The Nikon Coolpix S8100

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner
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Nikon has developed a reputation for having well-made, and most importantly, easy-to-use point and shoot cameras. In fact, a model from earlier this year took Consumer Reports top spot for sub-ompact cameras, the Coolpix S8000. So it was only natural that Nikon would build on a product that was very well received, and they have answered the call with the Coolpix S8100. A follow up to the top-rated S8000, the S8100 makes some important advances in technology.

The video mode has been upgraded to full 1080 HD video, versus 720 HD on the S8000. That goes for still photos as well, so you can shoot HD stills, and display them in full high definition by connecting to an HDTV. The camera is 12 megapixels, enough for printing enlargements up to 16x20, or for a good amount of cropping. Nikon also added a mode dial to help the user access the different camera modes quickly and easily and it's placement on top of the camera is convenient. The most significant change is something you won't see, but will make a world of difference in the pictures. That would be the image sensor itself.

The image sensor is the eye of the camera and collects all the information for the picture. In the new S8100, Nikon put in a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, a far superior image sensor than the standard CCD sensors in most point and shoot digital cameras. The advanced CMOS sensor offers everything from better color reproduction, to better low light performance, even better power management that leads to longer battery life. The S8100 also has a better, brighter LCD screen, and the 3" size is more than enough to not only see your pictures clearly before you take them, but afterwards as well.

This camera also packs a big 10x optical zoom into its fairly compact frame, plus a lot more. You won’t miss a shot either, since it offers high speed shooting of ten frames per second in continuous mode (and at full resolution), as well as fast startup time, and very little shutter lag. With fast start up time, fast auto focus, and a very quick shutter, you can be ready at a moments notice to get those great shots other cameras might miss. It also has Nikon’s VR image stabilization, which will definitely come in handy, since this camera has a 300mm equivalent telephoto lens.

No Coolpix camera would be complete without Nikon's scene modes, for easy automatic use in tricky situations. Backlit subject, low light, can't use a flash? No problem. Just access the scene modes and set the camera for the type of photo you are taking. The camera will do the rest. Everything from portraits and sports, to sunsets, night shots and fireworks displays have a convenient, easy to access scene mode.

So Nikon answered the question, how do you make the best, better? You take a model with a proven track record and critical acclaim, and you pair it with the most cutting edge technologies available on point and shoot cameras. Make no mistake, the addition of a CMOS sensor is no small upgrade to the top rated compact digital camera of 2010. It further enhances an already great camera, and allows for anyone to get those great shots.

Viewfinders: Electronic vs. Optical

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner
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Depending on the kind of camera you own, or are thinking of buying, the type of viewfinder it uses can vary pretty significantly. While many point and shoot cameras have done away with viewfinders altogether in favor of ever larger LCD displays, many people find that having a viewfinder can be very important, and some people won't buy a camera without one.

So why are viewfinders so important if cameras come with nice big screens? Just take a typical point and shoot camera out in bright sunlight. Good luck accurately framing or focusing your shot. On higher end cameras, viewfinders offer the ability to fine tune shots with manual focus, and provide shooting information. There are some important differences between optical and electronic viewfinders, and knowing the pros and cons of each type may help in a decision of what type of camera to purchase, especially if you are considering an interchangeable lens camera.

Optical Viewfinders:

On some higher end point and shoot cameras, like the Nikon P7000 or the Canon G12, there is an optical viewfinder in addition to the LCD screen. This type of viewfinder is essentially a small window near the lens that you can use for framing. Unfortunately, since it is near the lens, but not the lens, what you see is not exactly what you get. It is an approximation meant to help compose photos, but be careful to review the images to make sure you got the shot you were hoping for.

DSLR cameras offer a far better type of optical viewfinder, called a pentaprism, which uses a mirror to allow the user to essentially see through the lens. This is especially useful since you are able to clearly see everything the lens sees, and it makes things like manual focus, and small depth of field changes easy to see. In addition, the viewfinder will display shooting data such as f-stop and shutter speed, and give some other exposure related information. The coverage on this type of viewfinder is usually close to 100%, so framing and composing shots is far more accurate than with the type of viewfinder found on point and shoot cameras. Using optical viewfinders also makes the camera more energy efficient, so battery life is extended.

Electronic Viewfinders:

There are different types of electronic viewfinders as well. Many non-interchangeable lens cameras with a lot of zoom (sometimes called "superzooms"), like the Nikon P100, the Canon SX30IS, or the Panasonic FZ100, use electronic viewfinders that are essentially small LCD displays inside the viewfinder. This type of viewfinder is nice because it can display lots of information, and does provide an exact view of what the image will be, as opposed to some optical viewfinders. Not all electronic viewfinders are created equal however, and resolutions can vary significantly. If finding a camera with a built in electronic viewfinder is important, you should definitely try out different models to see firsthand. Some are remarkably sharp, while others can look very pixilated.

On interchangeable lens cameras using the micro four-thirds system like the Olympus E-PL1 or the Panasonic GF1, the electronic viewfinders attach on top of the camera, since the cameras themselves are so compact they can't house an in-camera viewfinder. These viewfinders also vary in resolution, so again make sure you check out each model if the viewfinder is something you think you will need or want to use. These type of viewfinders can be great for displaying lots of shooting information, and often beat optical viewfinders in low light. The resolution is limited however, and remember, more power consumption means shorter battery life.

The important thing to remember is that each type has it's strengths and weaknesses. Depending on the type of camera you are looking into, the size you want, and your shooting style, one may be much better suited for your use than the other. It really will depend on the user. So it is important to understand what you are getting if you are looking for a camera with a viewfinder. The easiest way to do this of course, is to come into your nearest Penn Camera and see the differences for yourself. Until you see for yourself, don't make any decisions. For some people the viewfinder can truly make or break the camera.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fotoweek DC is BACK

By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner
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If you are even a casual photographer in the D.C. area, and you aren't really excited, than you must not have heard. Fotoweek DC is back! Kicking off on November 5th with a launch party highlighting the winners of this year‘s international photography contest at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Fotoweek DC then runs almost nonstop, with events lasting all week from November 6th through the 13th. Fotoweek DC D.C. is the area's largest photographic event, and regardless of skill level, or field of photography, Fotoweek DC offers something for EVERYONE!

There will be photo galleries and exhibitions naturally, all around the area, including at the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design, the National Geographic Museum, and many other locations around town. The list is truly extensive, with multiple events on any given day. There will also be conferences and lectures from some of the biggest names in international photography and photojournalism, as well as instructors in photography, even Pulitzer Prize winning photographers will be in attendance. This is truly a huge event for the photographic community in the area, stretching across D.C., Maryland and Virginia and bringing together people from all over the world.

If you can't take the entire week off of work and just experience it all (my recommendation), there are some highlights that shouldn't be missed. One of the most popular from years past has been the NightGallery, consisting of nighttime photo projections done around the city. At night, the city lights up with huge images projected across some of the most beautiful, stunning architecture that DC has to offer. The effect is truly awe-inspiring, and should be a must see for everyone. Sites include the Corcoran Gallery and the American Red Cross on 17th street, as well as DuPont Circle, the Satellite Central in Georgetown, as well as several museums in the area; including the Holocaust museum, and the Newseum. More information can be found on the official website, Fotoweek If the Georgetown area is convenient for you, then check out Satellite Central on M street. It will feature photographic presentations, as well as music on Thursday, November 11th, and a “slideluck potshow” on Friday the 12th that will be half great home cooked dining, half riveting slideshow. With everything going on this Fotoweek DC, you have no excuse not to be there.

There are plenty of events to keep everyone interested, so make it a family day and go see what Fotoweek DC has to offer. If you have any interest in photography whatsoever, Fotoweek DC has at least five things for you. This festival is only in its third year, but it is quickly becoming one of the most popular photographic events in the country. Just check out the website, it has all the information on the galleries, night events, contests, the event calendar, etc.

Penn Camera is proud to be a Platinum Sponsor of Fotoweek DC, joining other such names in photography as Epson, Getty images, Nikon, and many more. This is the type of annual event that is certain to draw thousands of photographers, both from right here at home, and around the globe. If you already live here, you really have no reason to miss out on this huge, educational, and just plain fun event. It only comes once a year, so let’s all help make this year’s Fotoweek DC the best ever!