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Category: art and illustration (Page 2 of 12)

Canon Powershot A630 vs. Olympus PEN E-PL2

Pixels or sensor size? Consumers have been trained to judge cameras by their pixel counts, But there are other factors that may be more important to image quality, in particular lens quality and sensor size. Recently I purchased an Olympus PEN E-PL2 camera. This is one of the newish breed of interchangeable lens mirrorless digital cameras that have near-DSLR-size sensors in bodies almost as small as those of point-and-shoots. It’s a good camera for me because much of my photography is travel related, and DSLRs tend to be too heavy and conspicuous for travel work (If I had the budget I would upgrade to the newer OM-D E-M5.)

On a recent trip I took both the Olympus and my old Canon A630 (which was more of a photo enthusiast camera than the current Powershot line, which to me is barely an upgrade from an iPhone camera), and I found that I used the Canon point-and-shoot more than I expected to. Among its advantages are its smaller size, which allows it to be slipped into a pocket and whipped out instantly (the Olympus is a little too big for this, except maybe when equipped with a pancake lens), its shorter time lag time between shots, its silent shutter (the PEN’s is fairly loud), and its swivel view screen, all of which make it well suited for inconspicuous street shooting — it draws virtually no attention. The Canon is also good in low-light situations, when I might not bother to pull out the PEN (unlike the more recent but expensive OM-D E-M5 in the same line, low light is not one of its particular strengths).

But how does the image quality compare? Photography sites tend to do comparisons between comparable cameras, which makes sense if you are shopping in a particular segment. It is less common to compare cameras that are significantly different in nature. But I was curious how great the difference would be between such cameras, and I made a quick, unscientific comparison. The results indicate the the larger sensor size and better optics of the Olympus are (as would be expected, or at least hoped) a distinct upgrade from the Canon. (The Canon is 8 megapixels, the Olympus 12.3 megapixels, but I don’t think that is sufficient to account for the difference in these images).

The Canon images are on the left, the Olympus on the right. The first obvious difference is in color. Olympus has the reputation of producing satisfying jpegs out of the camera without post processing (I’m mostly shooting jpg with the occasional raw; these are jpegs), but I’m not sure in this case that the color of the tomatoes is more accurate from the Olympus than the Canon — though I do think the Canon overdarkens the countertop and stove. (These images are reduced in size and sharpened a little to compensate for the reduction but otherwise not manipulated. They were taken without a flash.)

The difference becomes more apparent (even when reduced to the tiny size of these blog images) when we zoom in. Most obviously, the Canon fails to capture detail in the tomato sprigs, while the Olympus captures individual hairs.

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There is also a clear difference in the cameras’ ability to capture the quality of the tomatoes’ translucent plastic container (the angles of the shots are slightly different).

Bottom line: no surprises (thankfully), but I think it is interesting to see just what the degree of difference is between a relatively top-of-the-line point-and-shoot and a typical mirrorless camera. For people who want high-quality images from a small camera, I would recommend the Olympus PEN series.
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Olympus E-Pl2

P3070267

This photo of a jade plant in front of the fireplace was taken with my new camera, an Olympus E-PL2. This is a mirrorless camera in the micro four thirds format (so called for the 1.33 in. size of the sensor, I think). The best thing about the fairly new mirrorless cameras is that they employ near-DSL-size sensors in point-and-short-sized bodies (although eqipped with anything other than a pancake wide angle lens they are not really pocket sized). Within the mirrorless category, the u4/3 system is nice because some major camera manufacturers (notably Olympus and Panasonic) got together and agreed on specifications for the system. This means that within the u4/3 system you can buy a camera body from one company and make use of a lens from another company. The E-PL2 is a couple of years old, but it was offered at a great price, and the lenses are the same as on the current models (such as the OM-D-EM5, which is great but lists for $1300 on Amazon).

For more examples, I have some garden photos like this one posted at Frisco Vista.

apricot blossoms - P3080274

And low-light examples like this one from the Asian Art Museum’s Terracotta Warriors show at 7Junipers.

terracotta warrior (kneeling archer)

Paris under water

This photo is one of a series of dark, atmospheric photos by Arnaud Labgraph showing the Seine at high water.

Photography is one of the diverse interests of this mainly book publishing-related blog, but I have been largely inactive for a while as I have been at work on nonvirtual projects. I hope to get back to more regular blogging now — we shall see — and what better way than with a post drawn from my colleague Jason Jose’s Faith Is Torment blog?

How well do you see color?

color challenge

I proof color professionally in my job as a museum publications specialist, and I feel like I’m pretty good at it. So I was pleased to get the confirmation of a perfect score in this interesting color test. Give it a try!

 

Font Shop plug-in

The Font Shop plug-in allows trying before buying. According to the FS webpage, “The FontShop Plugin Beta allows designers and other type enthusiasts to try out FontShop fonts directly inside Adobe® Photoshop® CS5 and CS5.5. You can preview any of the over 150,000 FontShop fonts for free, in the context of your own artwork. This is a great new way to find the perfect typographic fit for your project.”

Cats as typefaces

cats as fonts

Gotta say, this is purrty well done. More like this over at Bombi(llo).

Color psychology

pantone color swatches

I was thinking the other day about how my color preferences have changed over time, and that got me looking at a few pop psychology websites about color preferences.

The basic problem with these sites is that there are particular hues and then there are their concepts. So if a site asks you to rank your preferences by clicking on color swatches, you might say, “I like red, but I don’t like that red. Whereas if you are asked to quickly name your favorite color without thinking about it and you name red, you are most likely thinking of the concept of redness rather than of a particular hue.

Of course the notion of a favorite color is ultimately absurd. Red would be meaningless without all of the other colors to juxtapose with it. From the designer’s point of view, colors take meaning from how they are used in relation to other elements.

But as a sort of amusing parlor game it can be interesting to wonder about why one’s preferences change. As a child if you asked my favorite color I would have said blue — that’s the color I usually picked when choosing board game tokens, for example. As a young adult I would probably have given you a lecture about color philosophy and how existence precedes essence and why that is relevant to de Saussurian linguistics, but if (quite justifiably) hit over the head and forced to pick I would have said yellow. Now I find myself increasingly drawn to green, and when I go clothes shopping I often wish there were more greens offered (there are few).

I noticed that there is a great deal of disagreement on the various sites about what your color preferences “mean.” According to one representative site, a preference for blue reflects a conservative, reliable, sincere, trusting, and trustworthy personality; a preference for yellow a cheerful, fun, creative, and analytical bent; and a predilection for green a practical, down-to-earth, stable, balanced, compassionate, and calm nature. Sure.

A few years ago I read a couple of erudite books on color in art by John Gage, former head of the Department of History of Art at Cambridge University. Gage looked at color from a variety of different disciplines. I found his surveys interesting, but I find I have retained little of what I read in his books. It’s probably because I favor the wrong colors.

Turkey Day

turkeycock by mansur

North American Turkey, ca. 1612, by Mansur. Victoria and Albert Museum, IM 135-1921.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a painting of an American turkeycock by the great Mughal painter Mansur (from my forthcoming book 1616: The World in Motion). Mansur was the greatest Mughal painter of natural history subjects.

It was an area in which the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, was deeply interested. A world in motion brought to his court many strange and curious creatures, which he invariably directed his painters to document. In 1612, when a large number of birds and animals were brought to his court from Goa, he wrote, “As these animals appeared to me to be very strange, I … ordered that painters should draw them in the Jahangirnama [his reign journal], so that the amazement that arose from hearing of them might be increased.”

Among the birds brought from Goa was this American turkey painted by Mansur. Like Abul Hasan (who painted the cover image of my book), Mansur ranked high in Jahangir’s esteem, and the ruler gave him the title of Nadir-ul-asr, “Unique of the Age.” “In the art of drawing,” he said, Mansur “is unique in his generation.” He ranked him together with Abul Hasan, saying, “In the time of my father’s reign and my own, these two had no third.”

Jahangir was proud of such creatures in his menagerie as flying mice, tailless monkeys, zebras, yaks, cheetahs, West Asian goats, Himalayan pheasants, dodos, ducks, and partridges. He had many of the foreign animals bred in captivity. When he received a strange animal he typically would record a verbal description of it before having its likeness painted. In 1616 he was presented with an Abyssinian elephant, noting that “Its ears are larger than the elephants of this place, and its trunk and tail are longer.” His concern for accuracy and completeness of documentation led to a naturalistic approach to paintings of natural history, of which Mansur was the foremost proponent.

Human flowers

human flowers

More like this at Web Designer Depot.

Help wanted: Italian painting specialist

quirinal fresco

Help! For the book I’m working on I’m trying to identify the painters of these frescos in the Quirinale (the Italian equivalent of the White House). They depict foreign ambassadors to the Vatican, and I’d also like to identify the ambassadors — but first things first.

quirinale frescos

I’ve consulted several books in both English and Italian but remain uncertain about the attributions. My best guess at this point is that the top two are mainly by Carlo Saraceni, the third one by Agostino Tassi, and the last one perhaps by Giovanni Lanfranco.

quirinale frescos

Among the ambassadors are Robert Sherley, Aliqoli Beg (not entirely sure who that is), Emanuele Ne Vunda, Hasekura Tsunenaga, and Luis Sotelo (the last a Franciscan missionary and not an ambassador per se). Can the Turkish and Persian ambassadors be distinguished by their styles of turbans?

Even if you don’t know the answers to these questions, if anyone can point me in the direction of an obliging Italian painting specialist I could be in touch with about this it would be a great help. Thanks!

Monkeys and squirrels in trees

This image is by the great Mughal painter Abul Hasan (I devote a few pages to him in the book I’m currently working on). Usually called “Squirrels in a Plane Tree,” it was painted by the artist when he was about seventeen. The solid flat background and stylized elements reflect the Persian painting tradition. Later Hasan would move more toward Western-style naturalism.

When I showed this image to Ellen she said, “Oh, the reason you like it is because it looks just like Caps for Sale.” “You’re right!” I said. I hadn’t thought of that comparison, but when our girls were little we used to enjoy that book by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was about a cap peddlar who carried his caps stacked on top of his head. One day he went to sleep under a tree (the cover inverts this, with the peddlar in the tree and monkeys on the ground).

caps for sale cover

While he was sleeping his caps were stolen. Looking up, he saw many monkeys in the tree, each wearing one of his caps. “You monkeys you!” he demanded. “You give me back my caps!” (Eventually he gets them back.)

Stylistically the Caps illustrations and the Hasan painting are not as close as memory made them seem. One of the most obvious differences is that the trunks and branches of the Caps tree are nothing but white space, an interesting strategy. By contrast, in Hasan’s painting the trunk and branches of the tree are one of the most volumetrically shaped elements in the painting.

Despite the differences they do share something of a similar spirit. And both are wonderful.

Author photo

thomas christensen author photo

My author questionnaire and author photo for 1616: The World in Motion are due this week to Counterpoint Press. My daughter Ellen, who is a brilliant photographer, among other things, took this photo from the roof of her apartment overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland. It was raining lightly at the time, and later that day ice would fall from the sky.

In Tom’s Glossary of Book Publishing Terms the author photo is defined as “Pictorial fiction. Authors always choose photos that emphasize that quality in which they feel most deficient.” So what does this say about me? I dunno — but I will say, as a guy who has been cutting his own hair for years, that I don’t think the hair looks too bad.

Pantone Chip Cookies

Kim Neill at kimcreativestar.com tells you how to bake them.

Another unmemorable post

It’s unmemorable because it’s set in Georgia. Or at least that doesn’t help, according to Eightface, who cites a study that purports to show that students remember material better when it is set in something like Comic Sans Italic or Haettenschweiler than in some unassuming face. The idea, apparently, is to slow down reading speed. Of course, if you want to slow down reading

there R other wa
ys to accompli
sh the sam
e thing.

Travel photo: Castel Vecchio Museum courtyard, Verona, Italy

castel vecchio museumcourtyard, verona, italy

While we’re in Verona, here’s a picture from the courtyard of the Castel Vecchio, which is a handsome museum indeed. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect they slyly chose the planting to coordinate with the banner for the Maria Morganti show.

Travel photo: Venetian gondolier

gondola on a canal in venice, italy

This photo amuses me because the gondolier reminds me of the Eric Blore role in the Astaire/Rogers film Top Hat.

eric blore (manservant in top hat)

Travel photo: a street in Verona

Please bear with me while I post a few photos from my recent trip to the Veneto and Upper Adige.

I travel with a little (maybe 12-inch) tripod, but for photos at dusk like this one I usually just set my camera on something steady, like a trash bin or fire hydrant, in order to get a longer exposure. Usually I’m able to hold the camera steady for quite a long time in such situations.

Project Thirty-Three

lp graphic design

Project Thirty-Three aims to connect the dots:

The seemingly infinite number of vintage record jackets that convey their message with simple shapes like the dot never ceases to amaze and amuse me. Project Thirty-Three is my personal collection and shrine to these expressive dots along with their slightly less jovial but equally effective cousins; squares, rectangles and triangles, and the designers that make them come to life on album covers.

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via Swiss Miss

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Google font API

google font api - example typefaces

Google has quietly introduced an API (application programming interface) for web fonts. This could potentially result in better — and also worse — web typography — depending on the skill and knowledge of the people who implement it. Unfortunately only a small minority of font users these day take the time to educate themselves about the print tradition.

Google’s font system involves referencing fonts stored at fonts.googleapis.com. The open source license fonts are then served up by the Google servers and should appear on your web pages without your needing to upload or embed them. There are instructions here.

Only a small number of fonts are available at present but no doubt the list will grow. I wonder what the type designer community will think about this.

100 meters of humanity

hoegsberg photo

For the 100-meter-long photo of which the detail above is a part Simon Hoegsberg shot one-hundred seventy-eight people, “in the course of twenty days from the same spot on a railroad bridge on Warschauer Strasses in Berlin in the summer of 2007.” Impeccably stitched together into one enormous photo, the images create something like one of the great narrative scrolls of the East Asian tradition. Check out the full image here.

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Via Substraction.

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