Imaging the Winter night sky

Really clear nights with stable atmosphere have been few and far between of late. Add to that the winter rarely grants us too many nights at best and it makes a recent Saturday night a rare event.

With the Southern Cross, Coal Sack, and Eta Carina all very low in the night sky it was a pleasant surprise to see stars right down to the horizon and still maintain clarity. Overhead Scorpio & Sagittarius are passing through the zenith and with Jupiter directly overhead saw me shooting a series of RAW & Jpeg images.

I’ve been slowly processing the images over the past week using a variety of tools. Namely, DeepSky Stacker, Sequator, Siril for image stacking with RawTherapee, Lightroom (trial version), Gimp and Photoscape for various parts of the image editing process. Not being well versed using Gimp produced quite the learning curve, but as I use this application more frequently I’m beginning to come to grips with it. Long time photoshop users will no doubt find Gimp very familiar.

The reason for the amount of differing image tools varies on what the end result  is expected to be. Processing the RAW files takes a different set of tools to get the most from the images and the same can be said for  processing of the Jpegs. I find that some tools are better for each of the different filetypes. There are those who will use the same tools no matter what they are processing and that is fine as well. Using free image processing tools is what we are concentrating on in this series of images and is in keeping with the Frugal Photographer ethos.

If you have access to the paid packages and you are comfortable paying  what in my view is some pretty hefty pricing then go for it, there is no right or wrong method, merely what suits your desired outcome and affordability criteria.

25 x 10 sec f4 @ ISO 1600 Jpeg files Stacked in DSS and processed in Raw therapee & Photoscape.

25 x 10 sec f4 @1600 ISO CR2 Raw files Stacked in Siril and processed with Gimp & Photoscape


25 x 10 sec f4 @ ISO 1600. Stacked in Sequator and processed with Gimp & Photoscape.

20 x 10 sec f4 @ ISO 1600 CR2 RAW Files stacked with Siril and processed with Gimp & Photoscape

20 x 10 sec f4 @ ISO 1600 Jpeg Files stacked with Siril and processed with Gimp & Photoscape

One of the most noticeable things when processing these images is just how much data is available in the stacked Jpeg files. The camera does a good job of color correction, distortion correction and overall detail balance in the image. This makes stacking and final processing a good deal faster than processing the RAW files.

I still feel that visually the RAW images are a little more refined but lack the visual impact of the final Jpeg edits. I have no doubt that I could with time and practice match the appearance of the Jpegs if I were to push the RAW file processing somewhat more intensely. However unless you are intending to print these images at A3 or above I have no problem with printing the Jpegs at A4 or A3 without needing to further process the RAW based images.

This is something I noticed markedly with my Fuji XA2 when using it for astrophotography. Stacked Jpeg images from the XA2 were spectacular and lacked nothing for detail, color & contrast. Given how good Fuji Jpeg files are this really comes as no surprise and while RAW files do hold a huge amount of data I suggest you ignore stacked Jpegs at your peril, you may just be missing  an important part of your astrophotography process.

I cannot however say the same when it comes to the images from my 700D. Thats not the cameras fault but rather the 18-55 STM lens while sharp over the center 50% of the lens is woeful around the periphery as can be seen by the elongated star images in the outer portion of the images. Not a good lens for this type of work. It is at best adequate and if you like me haven’t anything better then it does suffice, and in reality I shouldn’t grumble too much.

I only have to step back 30 years to remind myself that I would never have dreamed I could take images such as those above with what is a pretty standard entry level camera and kit lens. We have certainly come a long way in the past few decades.

Happy Snappin’

A visit to a local bird park.

We took the opportunity this morning of visiting  Shaw’s Bird Park.

The park can be found on the southern outskirts of Hamilton and is well worth the time to visit. The public needs to get behind this private venture and help sway the local city council from taking part of this land away for a road to connect a local subdivision.

As always it seems that private individuals have  little recourse in these matters. An online petition has been set up and to date has garnered several thousand signatures, mine included. In the mean time if you have the odd packet of birdseed languishing on a garden shed shelf its likely the Park can  put it to good use.

White Faced Heron

We didnt spend as much time as we would have liked to, we had other places to visit therefore our stay was somewhat shorter than I would have liked, but we will definitely be returning to see some of the other areas we missed today.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was meeting a Tui that has a penchant for licking your fingers. They have an amazingly delicate tongue.

With the advent of Covid-19 and restrictions on movement staying local and supporting our local attractions is a good way to spend some hours.

Apart from the bird life theres a huge array of native trees and flora, and its obvious that spring is on its way with all the new buds and magnolias in flower. This will make a great place to be on a hot summers day with lots of shade and water areas to keep you cool.

All images taken with the Canon 700D and the 55-250 IS STM lens.

Oppo A5 – EOS 700D & Raglan revisited

Being as it was my wife’s birthday this Friday just gone I thought it appropriate that we dined out in style.

Well dine out in rustic style that is. One of our favorite haunts is the “Wharf Fish & Chip Shop”. You may have seen previous articles featuring this place, and its rustic charm and simple seafood fare is what draws a lot of folks back for a return visit. We are no exception. Plus we just like being somewhere close to the sea and the fresh air. Its gives one a chance to chill out and forget about all the problems associated with Covid-19. Fortunately we are only at level 2 status and are pretty much free to go where we want so long as we observe a little social distancing and are mindful of hygiene.

It was also a really good reason to try out the camera in my new Oppp A5 smartphone. Its no camera giant compared to flagship models like my wife’s Note9 with only a 12 mega pixel main camera. However in good light it seems to acquit itself quite well. Some of the images I took with it have been printed on 5 x 7 glossy photo-paper and it is unlikely you could tell from what camera the image was taken. In fact when put alongside images shot with the 700D, I doubt that anyone is likely to tell the difference at this size and it is precisely the same even on A4 prints.


I have to say that I’m impressed with how the phone dealt with this scene given that the harsh light outside of the seating area and large dynamic range. A good many cameras fail in this situation, including the 700D, which struggled a little in this instance. In this particular instance the relatively slow aperture of the 18-55 kit lens just wasn’t really up to the task and it shows. The much faster f1.8 lens of the phone’s camera proved to be better at balancing the light values, and of course theres some fairly serious computational work going on as well. None the less it does show an area where the DSLR with standard lenses struggles to compete. Its this very reason that sees me almost exclusively have the EF-S 55-250 mounted on the 700D and I use the smartphone for closeup, wide field work or where I want a more panoramic view.

For the more traditional landscape image I would move back to the DSLR and wide lens & telephoto when needed.

Having said that I’m not displeased with the sharpness and tonality of this image. I didnt have to do much apart from a vignette and a small crop to give the image the ambient look much as I saw it when taking the photo.

I’m having to work a good deal harder to get images I’m satisfied with the 700D. The sensor is the same as the 650D apparently, and that was a nice sensor. Where the difference lies is in the Digic 5 processor, it handles the light substantially differently to what I had become used to with the 650D and the 1000D, and is taking quite some sorting to get used to it. Frustratingly this has meant that the keeper rate has dropped off.

Another quirk of this camera is in live view, which is considerably better than the 650D. Unfortunately unlike mirrorless cameras you cant sufficiently reduce the focus area as in a good mirrorless camera, hence you get missed focus on a number of shots. The image below is a classic example of this.

I wanted the focus to be on the closet of the posts and throw everything beyond out of focus. I new it would look quite nice compositionally with the couple just coming into shot in the background. The image had good depth of view whilst holding all but the foreground object in focus. In the live view screen it appeared that I had the focus point spot on. Unfortunately quite a lot of the mid ground became the point of focus with everything forward of that out of focus. I was using the 55-250 so was hoping for good smooth out of focus areas. That wasn’t to be.

Suffice to say at this point the 700D is proving to be quite the challenge. I’m just stubborn enough to keep at it until I strike a setup that works the way I want it to. I will update my progress as time and conditions permit. Until then:

Happy Snappin’

More from the Canon EF-S 55 – 250 mm STM lens.

The more I use this lens the more I’m coming to understand some of its quirks. Its not really a low light shooter, I found that out quite quickly. In fact the Canon ef-s 55-250 MkII IS lens was better in low light due to it being half a stop faster at f3.5 Vs f4 of the STM version. Half a stop doesn’t seem that much but its surprising how much brighter the older lens appears to be, at least in tests shots I’ve done with both lenses.

The STM version beats the older lens hands down in the AF stakes. Its ability to lock on to a subject with minimal to no focus hunting is so much nicer to use. The images of the bees had it working pretty hard, and while it did miss focus on some shots its hugely more reliable than its predecessor.

I’ve mentioned previously that I thought the 700D seemed to be a little soft in focus, but after the last couple of days in good light it seems to be pretty well spot on. Images appear relatively sharp for what is a kit lens, and at this price point I wont be complaining. I will however say that the Fuji XC 50-230 mm is noticeably sharper, but doesn’t focus as fast or quite as accurately as the Canon lens. Having said that I’m aware the the Fuji XC 50-230 lens performs considerably better when paired with an XT-20 or better Fuji body.

For the time being however, and until I win the lottery I will stay with the Canon 700D for the short term, although the call of the Fuji is strong 🙂

Taking advantage of a crisp frosty morning I opened the lounge window to take a shot of the vista seen below.

Shot at 55 mm focal length.

As you can see in the image the frost had just burnt off but the fog banks were still rolling through the valleys. This view was far more spectacular a few years ago before the oak trees in the foreground started to encroach on the view.

Shot @ 135 mm

The image above is taken with the 55-250 and the focal length is 135mm. I deliberately did this to give a sense of scale when compared to the previous image shot at 55 mm.

The above image is shot in vertical aspect at 250 mm, and post processed in Photoscape 3.7. The central tree seen in all three of these images is approximately 1.5 kilometres away from our house. I’m pleased with the amount of detail and resolution afforded by this lens at this distance. It shows good colour in the image as well although I have pushed the saturation a little to better the sky colour.

Okay so thats the wide to telephoto range for landscape and distance shots. Colour and detail is good, no complaints thus far.

What about using the lens for closeups?

As it turns out, not too shabby there as well. Long time readers will know that I have a love hate relationship with bees, not because they can sting but because they are not to easy to shoot and get a reasonable/good result. The low level sun we have to work with in winter can make this task just that much harder, creating deep shadows and very bright highlights. Add to that the little critters dont stay still for long makes the task harder. The AF on this lens is so much quicker than the mark II lens in this regard. Anything I pointed it at was locked onto with minimum of fuss.

Today the bees were working on tiny blue flowers, and I mean tiny. They arent any bigger than five or six millimetres in size, just enough room for a bees tongue. These are attached to a myriad of stems and small leaves which makes for a very busy background, making it hard to separate the bee from the plant. To obtain that sort of subject isolation generally means using a very fast short focal length prime, meaning mega bucks for a fast lens.

So how did the big kit zoom fair at subject isolation and resolution? You be the judge, but personally I think it did a pretty good job for a telephoto lens. Bear in mind also that these arent shot as macros but rather getting as close to the subject as I could and using, in some cases, the full focal length to zoom in and get the shot. And before you ask, no you cant do this with manual focus, the bees just move too fast and thats where fast reliable AF wins out.

My favourite model doing a spot of cleaning, Shot at 250 mm from approx 80 cm distance.

Actually you can do this with manual focus, but you need to be setup on a tripod and have selected one area and pre-focused for that area. I would also use a remote shutter app or as in my case ( pre WiFi camera) a remote wired shutter release. Tedious but it can be done as macro photography specialists have shown. I’m not that dedicated a macro photographer, well not yet anyways.

Below are three images all shot with the 55-250. For larger images click on any of the images in this post and you can see them full size on my Google Photos listings.

Shot @ 200 mm
Shot @ 250 mm
Shot @ 250 mm

In conclusion:

To date I’m well pleased that a $400.00 lens (thats the new price here in NZ) can provide a good deal of sharpness, contrast and colour with a very usable focal length. To better the overall performance of this lens would require spending in the order of two to eight times the price and you still wont get the focal length. If you were thinking of getting this lens to add to your kit, go for it you wont be disappointed. Just take some time to learn how it behaves and when to use it.

Camera settings were as follows:

  • Mode: P Mode
  • AF: Single shot
  • Metering: Spot
  • Photo-style: Standard, setup to mimic Fuji Velvia.
  • ISO : 800
  • Continuous shooting: Multi-shot
  • Ev: +1/2 stop

With the camera set in P Mode and the ISO set at 800 I was able to adjust aperture or shutter speed with the command dial depending on the result I wanted. As the camera generally chose f9.5 for most of the images I didnt have to do much other than consider composition or wait for the bee to move into frame for a image worth keeping. The beauty of P Mode as I have said previously is that it allows on the fly changes with the camera picking either correct shutter speed or aperture depending upon what you desire as an outcome. By and large the camera choose pretty well. It selected either aperture or shutter speed pretty much as I would have done.

This is something Canon cameras do very well and is an often overlooked feature, lost in the inane desire for everyone to shoot manually. Theres a reason camera manufacturers include this mode, and its not necessarily for beginners as most beginners really need a good deal of time to grasp how aperture, shutter and ISO works together. P mode is there for those of us who know what those terms mean but want the flexibility to make rapid adjustments without having to clutter up our thought processes with worrying about settings and get on with the more important task of actually composing the image and taking the shot.

While you are busy trying to decide what aperture or shutter speed you need, I have dialled in what I want, taken the shot and moved on to the next subject or image. So dont be afraid to try it, you may just find its a handy mode to use.

As always

Happy Snappin’

The Dead South

Hailing from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada the Dead South brings a darker and grittier sound to the country bluegrass genre.

Ten Minutes With The Dead South
The Dead South

With roots going back to the pioneering days of Canada and the US,  the birth of Bluegrass in both the Canadian and US music backgrounds, Bluegrass has faded somewhat as a popular music style.

Even here in New Zealand in the 1950’s through to the late 70’s country bluegrass was always heard. With our own local bands and Bands such as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and there widely acclaimed hit “Mr Bogangles ” there was always something to listen to from the folk/country scene. By the end of the 1970’s this style of music had pretty much disappeared from the radio playlists, usurped by punk rock and new wave and a younger generation that was going in a different direction and was quickly becoming more mainstream.

Fast forward to 2020 and we are seeing a resurgence in a lot of these partially forgotten music styles and influences. A new generation of music lovers are rediscovering the sheer wealth of talent that paved the way for the current crop of music artistry, while at the same time this generation is tiring of the canned garbage that a lot of music studios put out.

Its little wonder that artists are avoiding the big studios and relying on the likes of YouTube to get their music out there. If it doesn’t suit the three and a half minute mantra the studios dont really want to embrace new artists. Thats what makes seeing acts like The Dead South come to life and what makes it so refreshing.

Its also what makes duos like Larkin Poe so good to listen to and watch in concert. See the link lower down for these two hugely talented ladies.

Choosing a telephoto lens, a not so simple exercise.

One of the over-riding reasons for buying bridgecameras, for me at least is the all in one nature of the lenses they come with. If you are familiar with the Fuji bridgecameras or for that matter any of the models offered by other manufacturers you will know what I mean.

This gave us a camera with huge zoom range coupled with reasonably fast glass. Some models support constant apertures in the F2.8 to F4 range which makes for nice bright images.

In the DSLR and Mirrorless  world this style of lens wasn’t readily available until the last 10 or so years. There was very little to choose from as well, with most telephoto lenses being in the 70-200 mm range or in the 50 – 200 or 55 – 250 mm range. While being pretty versatile they dont quite match what you get with a bridge or superzoom camera.

Today we can get an 18-135 and 18-200 mm from Canon, 18-200 mm from Sigma, 18-270 mm From Tamron as well as 18-300 mm and 18-400 from Tamron, to list just a few.

Now as I’m in the market to match up a telephoto lens with my Canon 700D which I just purchased, and like many of you, I’ve been watching and reading various reviews on different telephoto lenses.

The all in one option is very very attractive having used an all in one lens Fuji bridge camera. But of course in keeping with the Frugal photography ethos I really dont want to exceed $1000.00 NZD for camera and lenses. I’ve already bought a new camera bag to house the camera and I still need to get a second battery, ball-head for the tripod as well as a new hand-strap, therefore I can only allocate approx $400.00 NZD for a lens. This does limit my choices quite markedly.  Most of the likely lens choices are going to be from the used market. Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 event people are selling off gear to recoup funds and this seems to be inflating the used market prices considerably above what prices were like pre Covid-19.

That too is limiting the range of choices available.

Eventually it came down to the following lenses all of which were around the $400.00 NZD mark. Some a little more costly some a little to a lot less.

  • Canon 55-250 MM IS II … $150 to $ 300 … Used
  • Canon 55-250 mm IS STM … $250 to $450 … Used
  • Canon 18-135 mm IS II … $250 to $500 … Used
  • Canon 18-200 mm IS II … $325 to $450 … Used
  • Tamron 18-200 MM IS … $170 to $300 … Used
  • Tamron 18-270 MM IS … $300 to $500 … Used
  • Sigma 18-300 DC Macro … $450 to $550 … Used
  • Canon 55-250 IS STM … $394 … New
  • Tamron 18-200 mm Di II VC … $498 … New

And the winner is – The Canon 55-250 mm STM and heres why.

All of the all in one lens offerings were either too short at the long end of the zoom or too expensive with the exception of the Canon 135 mm tele which for my purposes was too short, although they are an excellent mid range telephoto lens.

Both the Tamron and Sigma lenses have multi tube lens barrel construction, something I dont like as it allows lens droop and wobble to effect the lens, especially as the lens wears. This is true of my Tamron 28-300 lens that I have on one of my film cameras. It exhibits a small amount of barrel wobble, fortunately it hasn’t yet succumbed to lens droop/creep. Add to that that there is no warranty on used lenses just to further sway my choice.

The Canon 55-250 IS II lens is one I am familiar with and have had good results from when using it with my 650D. However it wasn’t that fast to auto focus compared to the STM lenses. My 18-55 STM lens AF is close to 50 percent faster the the earlier mark 3 version of the lens and is silent to boot. The front lens element doesn’t rotate on the STM version either which means I can use circular polarisers again without having to think about the filter orientation.

There were one or two “bargains” to be had. However closer inspection showed these bargains were for older versions of the current crop of lenses and had some pretty major flaws, even when compared against later generations of the same lens not including the very latest models.

The new Tamron 18-200 mm Di II VC got some very serious attention from me and I was seriously considering buying it. What stayed my hand was the price. Being above the cutoff point for the budget ruled this lens out leaving just the Canon 55-250 IS STM as the obvious choice.

Right from the start this lens was a major contender and coupled with its outstanding optical performance, reach and lack of weight made this an easy purchase at the end of my deliberations. With that in mind I hit the buy now button on the website and in a couple of days I should see it arrive in the mailbox.

I’m looking forward to using the new lens, weather permitting and will post some of the results here as I get to use it.

Happy Snappin’



Camera Bags .. we all need one.

Camera bags are generally a must have for anything larger than a smartphone or one of the premium compacts, something akin to the new Sony ZV-1 or the RX100 series. You get the idea, if it doesn’t fit in the pocket you will probably need a bag.

This is where things can get complicated very quickly. If you are going to get a bag, what sort should it be? I personally prefer the shoulder style bag and thats what we will look at in this article. I should note that I do have a LowePro Slingshot 200. I dont use this bag as  a camera bag anymore, it sees duty as my work bag and serves that purpose very well. I stopped using the LowePro bag as it tended to get too heavy with a load of gear in it. But for those wanting something between a shoulder bag and a backpack and you are happy to tote a bit of weight around, its a good option.

The New Bag…

As I’ve gotten older and my photography requirements have changed I want to carry around less gear and in a more compact way. Theres a huge range to choose from and its not easy to always tell what a bag is like from a set of images on a website. Ordinarily the large OMP camera bag retails between $80.00 to $90 NZD at most camera outlets. I bought mine off TradeMe for $22.00 NZD as a clearance item.20200628_114358 Whether this is actually a clearance item or just sales speak I dont know. I do know a bargain when I see one so after looking at dozens of new and used bags I took a punt and grabbed  one of the large bags.

Now large is a rather subjective term and the quoted size is for the internal space in the bag. What I was looking for was a bag big enough to fit my 700D with the 18-55 attached  and enough space for either one of the following. Canon EF-s 18-135 STM, Canon EF-S 55 – 250 STM or the Tamron 18-270 VC lens.  I haven’t yet decided as to which of these telephoto lenses will be going in the bag.

To test out this requirement I grabbed my 28-300 mm Tamron off my Pentax camera as well as a 28-90 Sigma. Both as you can see fit quite happily in the bag. I like to store my camera lens up. Fortunately the Canon 700D has the flippy screen so its protected. The bag comes with four Velcro compartment dividers. Two small and two large dividers. I put the two small ones side by side on the floor of the bag giving a nice well padded bottom for the camera to sit on. You can see them in place in the following photo.


The bottom of the bag is reasonably well padded but having the extra padding under the camera brings piece of mind.


In addition to a well appointed interior space the bag has a zippered internal pocket in the top flap which can carry a range of extras, like filters and other flat pieces of equipment.The top flap has two zips so that access can be fully or partially open when needed.

At either end of the bag is another pocket suitable for things like smartphones, small books or maps, these pockets would also accommodate other lenses up to the size of the EF 70-300 mm, a flash unit or spare batteries and charger, or even a small table top tripod. For a smallish bag its capable or carrying quite a bit of gear. On the outer surfaces of both the end pockets you have semi stretch pockets that would easily take a small water bottle or can of compressed air.20200628_114721

But wait we are not done just yet. On the back of the bag is an open top sleeve that would take a 10 inch tablet or small netbook for on the go editing. While on the front is a vertical zip that allows access to a pocket that would take a wallet or smartphone. This pocket is neatly set under the OMP logo on the front of the bag. The bag comes with a detachable ( one side only ) hand strap with a pleasing soft cover that makes it very easy to carry. The full padded shoulder strap is attached to metal rings at each end of the bag with carabiner style swivel clips. Both the attachment rings and clips are solid metal units.

Carabiner style strap attachments and stretch pockets at each end of the bag.

I have the shoulder strap stowed in the tablet pouch at the back of the bag. This pouch has a central Velcro tab to keep it closed so whatever is in the pouch stays put. Very handy for storing the strap.20200628_114515

On the front of the bag two sets of nylon loops can be seen. These came with two short adjustable straps attached which I have stored in the front wallet pocket. They are used for attaching a lightweight tripod to the bag.


Overall construction of the bag is excellent, the only thing it lacks is a pull out wet weather cover like my LowePro bag has. This really isn’t an issue as I dont intend to be getting wet doing adventure style photography. The bag is more than capable of shielding the gear inside from a passing shower and that is all I require it to do.

In conclusion,

I’ve had other shoulder bags in the past, both large and small and its fair to say than none of the have come as well equipped for the enthusiast photographer as this particular bag. At the current price you cant go wrong and even paying more for the bag would still leave you feeling that it was money well spent. The only real niggle I have with the bag is the the handle does sometimes impede ease of access to equipment, but its only one click and the handle is out of the way. I usually have the top handle stowed in a pocket when I’m using the shoulder strap so this really is a bit of a non issue.

  • Internal Dimensions:250×180×13­0mm
  • External Dimensions: 300×215×150mm