Sunday, December 25, 2011

'Tis the Season to be Jolly !

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Soriano family. The hustle and bustle of gift giving and re-gifting comes to an abrupt end but this season's chaos truly wanes on New Year's day.

The spirit of Christmas is in every LEGO brick of this 6 ton LEGO Christmas tree at LEGOLAND Florida. Half a million LEGO bricks later and 30 feet into the sky, adults and kids were bright eyed and bushy tailed to this magnificent spectacle. My kids spent 30 seconds at the LEGO Christmas tree and 2 hours at the LEGO store drooling at the goodies. So much for Christmas spirit...

One more week to return unwanted Christmas sweaters, redeem gift cards for that "real" present and horde once again for the after-Christmas shopping events until the adults get back to work and the kids return to school.

My children celebrate the trifecta of Christmas Day. Opening gifts at my mother's house, opening gifts again at my in-law's house and finally opening gifts in the Soriano household. Call it the triple threat of ear to ear smiles and wallet shrinking.

Cousin chaos returns. My favorite niece and nephew came for a visit for exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes. I savored every minute and second of this rare opportunity.

Gifts come in many forms but this gift is special. Wrapped in a diaper and this year's latest baby fashion, my soon to be 10 month old daughter is truly the best present under the tree.

Christmas is all about the kids. Adults have 364 other days to celebrate. Okay, maybe 363 days including birthdays.

The towering skyline of downtown of my family holiday photo does not compare to the unseasonably high temperatures this Christmas Day in Tampa, Florida. No snowstorms and winter gridlock but just mid 80 degree temperatures for my kids to enjoy. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

You can view more pictures shot with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D in my Christmas 2011 Gallery.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Christmas Concert

'Tis the season for holiday school events filled with itchy Christmas sweaters and uncomfortable patent leather shoes. December brings winter break for my grade school kids but not without a glorious Christmas concert before the New Year.

Sing the classics en masse. A serenade of "Silent Night", "Feliz Navidad" and "Jingle Bells" blasted through the church with a welcoming and cringing audio feedback. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a deafening tone.

Crimson blossoms emerge from the angelic light yielding overwhelming power over their parents. Flashes pop and camcorders roll during these precious captured moments.

My 9 month old daughter mimics the Christmas melodies with her high pitched squeals of delight. She will soon join her "Hark the Herald Siblings Sing".

Organized chaos. This is what Christmas looks like on the outside. Look deep into the bewildered eyes of onlooking parents in the audience and you will discover the true meaning of Christmas. (Hint: It is not Apple devices or Canon gear.)

You can view the HTML 5 version of the above video in my Christmas Concert 2011 Gallery if your mobile device cannot play flash video. There are pictures as well shot with the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV paired with EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lenses.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

A Pirate Christmas

The month of December brings cold weather, Christmas joy and pirates. Pirates, Santa and his elves to be exact. My daughter's Drama Club at her school performed their musical rendition of "A Pirate Christmas" to kick off the holiday season.

My daughter loves Christmas. The decorations, the carols and mostly receiving wrapped gifts are only on her short list. Costumed in her custom elf outfit designed by my crafty wife, my daughter personified the Christmas season in a 36 minute performance.

Santa and his elves encounter a bastion of greedy pirates who lost the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of giving rather than receiving. With several song and dance routines later, the pirates learn the true meaning of Christmas with the help from Santa and his elves. Sounds like a Hallmark made for T.V. moment.

Watch out Selena Gomez! My daughter may hit the big screen soon but of course the movie requires a serious Christmas holiday plot.

You can view more in my A Pirate Christmas Gallery shot with the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV paired with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lenses.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

All Quiet on the Thanksgiving Front

Thanksgiving Day usually sparks the season of holiday warfare. With only 31 days until Christmas Day, chaos erupts with annual Black Friday shopping events, must attend holiday office parties, school Christmas pageants and the ever stressful large gatherings of family functions. This Thanksgiving Day was surprisingly different for a change. Why? I did not have cooked turkey obligations.

With relative calm and precooked Costco Kirkland Signature Honey Glazed Ham plus the added bonus of an enormous baked apple pie with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, Thanksgiving Day was quite relaxing and stress free. No messy Turkey frying with expensive $50 peanut oil for a $20 bird and no long distance traveling this year makes me a happy camper. Just Florida weather in the Fall season and three servings of Apple pie a la mode to enable my post Thanksgiving dinner hibernation.

To win battles in holiday warfare, you have to distract the enemy (in-laws and kids) with rudimentary devices like an inflatable bounce house. Despite a few head bumps and tears, a few dollars spent on a bounce house rental equals priceless enjoyment of a plate full of turkey with all the trimmings.

All is quiet on this Thanksgiving Day. I give thanks for my family, my apple pie a la mode and my trusty Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D for capturing this turkey moment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kindle Fire Ignites with Value and Function

Price and Flash. Two words that closed the deal with the Amazon Kindle Fire. When the Kindle Fire was announced in September and heard those two infamous words, I immediately preordered this 7 inch multi-touch tablet mobile device powered by a hybrid Amazon and Android OS.

I immediately unboxed the Kindle Fire and plugged in the included AC adapter and charger to give the Fire some juice for my unending browsing. My first test was to go to an Adobe Flash video enabled website using the accelerated Amazon Silk web browser. Success. Flash videos played like a champ. Dual core processing of the Kindle Fire and Amazon Silk's web browser worked fast and nimble. Quite impressed.

The Apple iPad 2 starts at $500. The Amazon Kindle Fire is priced at $200. The price difference is pretty much a no brainer decision. Over half the price of an Apple iPad 2, the Kindle Fire is marketed to a much broader audience. Just like the success of the Apple App Store, Amazon is targeting the software app marketplace with the lure a low cost mobile device. It is working in my opinion. Games, popular apps like Facebook and Google Maps, Amazon Prime movies and the obvious Amazon "e-book" content just scratches the app surface. Of course, Amazon has a little work ahead of them to even compare themselves to the Apple App Store but patience is a virtue.

To Kindle or not to Kindle, that is the question in this crowded tablet market. I almost forgot to mention the micro usb port connectivity. The micro usb port is a data and charging receptacle at the bottom of the Kindle Fire. The only problem is I do not have a micro usb to usb adapter yet. So I cannot personally tell you if a flash drive will be recognized by the Kindle Fire. I am off to CompUSA and Newegg.com.

The countdown is ticking away. My temporary Amazon Prime subscription expires in a month courtesy of new Amazon Kindle Fire owners. The lure of the Kindle Fire experience is overwhelming with value and function in my brief and practical review. Amazon LLC is primed to take on Apple or may I say, the bully of the tablet and app playground with the Kindle Fire.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

We are South Pasco Predators!

Running fast and hard. My nephew's last youth football game of the season ends with a well deserved victory. The South Pasco Predators are now playoff bound and I was there to capture this ever sweet moment.

Game day means putting your game face on. Winning the game takes serious concentration as well as teamwork with your fellow players. The virtues of sportsmanship starts early even in grade school.

Following the football through my Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS lens takes concentration as well. With every play and first down, I anticipate that "money" shot one click at a time. Of course, practice makes perfect and 32gb memory cards fill up fast.

You can view more in Nathan's Youth Football 2011 Gallery shot with the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV paired with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II w/EF 1.4x extender and EF 300mm f/4L IS lenses.

A father and South Pasco Predator coach both proudly standing with the fruits of their labor.

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AIRFEST 2011 Experience

The annual AIRFEST 2011 held at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida amazed crowds by the thousands over the weekend with aerial demonstrations and military displays. MacDill is not just any AFB. It is host to the 6th Air Mobility Wing and is well known around the world as headquarters to United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) and Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Tampa, Florida is either the safest or the most dangerous city in the world to call home.

My son is dwarfed by this enormous jet engine of the Boeing B-52 strategic bomber of world conflict's past. Almost every airplane in military aviation can be seen and touched at AIRFEST 2011. My mini clone woke up early to see up close and personal the actual weapons of war used in his soon to be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 video game. This of course was immediately followed by begging and pleading for the miniature toy USAF Thunderbird F-18. At this point, I realized the educational lesson has ended for this excursion.

The seemingly endless tarmac of MacDill Air Force Base can handle even the biggest of cargo transport planes. This picture is not an optical illusion created by an extremely wide angle lens. My Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens paired to my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV could barely fit these massive military tools in my viewfinder.

Not only does AIRFEST 2011 exhibit aerial performances of the USAF Thunderbirds, it illustrates the dominating authority of military aviation of the United States. The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II shows off its heavy rotary cannon called the GAU-8 Avenger. This cannon provided close air support to eliminate tanks and armored vehicles. My son's desire for sugary soda eliminated my wallet at $3.50 a bottle.

Other branches of the armed forces with special displays were on hand to meet and greet with the public. It gives civilians an opportunity to witness and appreciate the efforts of men and women on active duty in the U.S. military. Where else can you get your hands on authentic light and heavy ordnance? My daughter will take that RPG launcher in pink, please.

I have to say it. Freedom is not free. It may sound cliche to the younger citizens of the United States. Through the live or die efforts of veterans of previous conflicts and active and reserve military soldiers, we can be safe and comfortable in our homes with family. My family gives a big salute to the men and women of the U.S. military. I give a personal salute to the Vietnam War veteran, Peter Chianchiano, holding this red,white and blue proudly.

You can view more World War II era aircraft and even the current Rockwell/Boeing B-1 strategic bomber in my AIRFEST 2011 Experience Gallery. I used the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV paired with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS w/ EF 1.4x extender and EF 17-40mm f/4L lenses.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM Practical Review

As you probably noticed, I am somewhat biased concerning Canon gear when it comes to photography. Canon DSLR's, Canon point and shoots, Canon lenses and everything Canon including knock off Canon lens coffee mugs fill my ChadSorianoPhotoBlog. This obsession does not make me blind to other brands especially when it comes to budget alternatives to Canon products. So, I picked up from my friends at North Tampa Photography the SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM standard zoom lens which has a street price of $899 for a practical lens review.

Just like my previous SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Practical Review, I wanted to give this SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM standard zoom lens real time use out in the field for my practical review. "Real time" meaning capturing life's moments of my family one picture at a time. Nothing fancy or scientific but actual pictures to look at and inspect for yourself.

Why would you even consider the SIGMA brand with Canon? Value and limited selection.
Considered Canon's workhorse, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM standard zoom lens is no doubt the ultimate in color, sharpness and focus speed. Unfortunately, it has a street price of $1400 and definitely not for the budget conscious. The closest focal and aperture equivalent to this "L" lens with compatibility for full frame and crop sensor cameras is the SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM lens.
"L" stature for $1400 or SIGMA "stigma" for $500 less? Read on.

The SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM verdict? The SIGMA is quite impressive. The standard zoom lens has the color, sharpness and dreamy bokeh of an "L" lens at all focal lengths. It definitely has that "pop". The SIGMA is not heavy and it is compact for such a fast lens even with the included hood attached. Vignetting at the widest focal length is barely noticeable on the 5D Mark II and can be tweaked in post. Overall, lens quality is just about equal to "L" stature.

Just like in my previous SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Practical Review, the SIGMA auto focus is slow and inaccurate in low light situations when compared to the Canon brand. My "OOF" shots declined in number only in very bright situations. The SIGMA AF is definitely not Canon "L" quality especially in low light. It is ironic that a fast aperture lens tailored for low light shooting has inconsistent AF in dark situations. Definitely, a "stigma" in my opinion.

This AF "stigma" is not a problem for landscape photography. If portraits are not your staple, the SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM standard zoom lens is perfectly fine. The SIGMA at 24mm is nice and clean for wide shots. Even in low light landscape situations such as "twilight" shots can be manually focused for critical focus. You can use the $500 savings for a nice inexpensive prime such as the Canon EF 35mm f/2 or the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM for portraits.

If you are looking for the ultimate "walk around" lens for your 5D Mark II that does just about everything flawlessly, save your coin for the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. If landscapes or still life are your fancy, the SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM is just fine and you save $500 as well.

You can view comparison images shot with identical settings and focal lengths with the SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lenses in my SIGMA 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM Lens Review Gallery.

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