Monday, June 20, 2011

A Father's Day to Remember

I have many loves in my life. They come in many forms and there is no photoblog big enough to list them all. I will spare the details and just give you the highlights this fabulous Father's Day. My first love is my family. Through thick and thin and even at the lowest points of my life, the wife and kids including extended family have always been there for me. Constantly overlooked and usually taken for granted, keeping the family unit together is the hardest and most enjoyable task in my entire life.

I have to admit food comes as a personal favorite. Just the lure of fried chicken or Spinach,Ricotta and Garlic Pizza from Angelina's Fine Italian Cuisine makes my mouth water. The Soriano family has traveled many miles for a good meal. From Jolibee Chicken Joy in Manila, Philippines to fried Calamari at Covo Dei Saraceni in Positano, Italy, culinary delights are beautiful to consume and photograph. My appetite for Italian was satisfied on Father's Day just in Brandon, Fl at Angelina's with no long airplane travel, currency conversion or even a long wait.

My 2000 Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic is just a faded memory but a love I will never forget. Some other lucky owner will cherish this semi-retirement motorbike. Riding on two wheels is an experience but not safe and practical for this father of three children.

I think shooting guns for sport is in my Filipino blood. The gunpowder flows through my veins with an unusual desire for 1911's in 45ACP. I actually had a brief moment at the gun range on Father's Day with a fellow Filipino father with the shared desire. Shooting pictures of shooting guns. Do I have to explain?

Sharing the love for Carvel Ice Cream with my children is priceless. The chocolate crunchies in their ice cream cake, dipped in soft serve in a cake cone and sprinkled on top of a Banana Barge is just plain heaven. You do not have to be middle aged to appreciate the simple things in life.

The ultimate love for photography and everything related to image making fuels my passion as well as my career in life. I am pretty much never without multiple cameras at any given time. I document my life with photographs because they will last longer than me and gives my children a chance to look back into their childhood. The good memories and the bad memories. It is all there.

You can view all the food, family and guns in my Father's Day 2011 Gallery.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

IRE Conference 2011 in Orlando, Florida

The best news journalists of television, print, radio and online converged at the 32nd annual Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Orlando, Florida. A bastion of Pulitzer, Peabody, Emmy and IRE Award winners discuss the many facets of uncovering fraud in today's tumultuous economic times. The James Hoyer Law Firm is a proud participant and sponsor of this noble event. As you noticed in the print advertisement above, I am part of a special group of former journalists that make up this investigative law firm in Tampa, Florida.

Chris Hoyer, my boss and the mastermind behind the legal investigations led by former journalists dynamic, spoke his mind and gave an inside look how the James Hoyer Law Firm conducts effective legal action against fraud.

Angie Moreschi, the Investigative Producer and Communications Director of the James Hoyer Law Firm, speaks passionately about the hard hitting effects on today's youth from the For-Profit school industry. Teamed with other aggressive investigative journalists on the panel, Angie demonstrated the inner workings of "For-Profits" with evidence from her arduous research and experience as a former investigative reporter.

Richard Bockman, the Investigative Editor for the James Hoyer Law Firm and former St. Petersburg Times Investigative Editor, proudly won the IRE Award for "Under the Radar" along with Jeff Testerman and John Martin. "Under the Radar" exposed a fake charity scam under the guise of U.S. Navy Veterans which had collected millions from unsuspecting donors masterminded from one individual.

Brian Ross, ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent, gave his insight to fellow journalists about large scale news investigations. Speaking to a full house of veteran and aspiring reporters, Brian Ross dispensed priceless techniques and advice for uncovering the truth.

Meet the James Hoyer Law Firm Investigative Team compiled of former journalists. They can aggressively uncover the truth and expose the fraud like no other. As you can see in the picture above, news hounds can have fun as well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Practical Review

The stigma of SIGMA wanes with every photograph through this amazing prime lens dedicated to APS-C crop sensors. The SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM lens satisfies the "fast aperture" and standard focal length crowd for APS-C DSLR's. As for the "stigma", SIGMA manufactures SLR camera lenses under the name of "Quantaray" which is sold by Ritz and Wolf Camera stores. I am not a big fan of Ritz Camera or the budget priced "Quantaray" in house brand they retail. With much doubt and skepticism, I picked up my SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM from my friends at North Tampa Photography for a street price under $500 for a practical lens review.

"Practical" means real time use out in the world. My world consists of capturing the true to life moments of my family of five, which includes a 3 month old newborn. No complicated wavelength and focus charts here. I go out and shoot pictures. Lots of pictures and even video to be exact.

Paired with my compact Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D, the SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM has definitely the "L" pop in color, sharpness and contrast. The EX designation denotes a sturdy build, while the DC means digital crop. The HSM is an acronym for Hyper Sonic Motor for auto focus. The lens body feels sturdy and chunky but not heavy. Mated to the T3i/600D, this lightweight combination provides a "Rangefinder" camera like feel such as the new Fuji X100 or even the ultra expensive Leica M9.

The SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM is categorized as a wide angle prime lens. On a crop camera, 30mm focal length has the focal equivalent of 48mm. It is more like a standard prime lens. Imagine a standard focal length with a fast f/1.4 aperture. A definite "bokeh" producing lens machine.

SIGMA has come a long way since Quantaray in my opinion. Their recent marketing push of their professional grade lenses has gotten much attention in the DSLR world. SIGMA quality control couple years ago has gotten some criticism such as grossly front and back focusing lenses coming out of the Japanese factory. This SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 lens gives me renewed faith, but wait! This cannot be the only choice for a budget priced and fast standard prime lens for crop sensor DSLR's ? Let me make a quick lens comparison just to be sure.

I chose two fast wide angle prime lenses priced under $600 to compare to the SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM. Of course, when I mean wide angle on a crop camera I mean standard focal length close to 50mm. So the lowest priced in the group (street price around $300) and one of my favorites is the Canon EF 35mm f/2. The smallest and lightest also means slower focus due to the lack of any Ultra Sonic Motor AF system. 5mm of longer focal length means a 56mm crop equivalent. The last contender in this brief lens comparison is the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM lens. Wider and faster than the EF 35mm f/2 but more expensive (street price around $530). The 28mm Canon gives almost a 45mm focal length equivalent on crop. I guess the added expense justifies the fast USM AF. The lens comparison verdict? Here are my observations.

Here is an excellent example above of the Canon EF 35mm f/2 in action. Great bokeh and the colors just pop for this value priced prime lens. Now for the bad part. No Ultra Sonic Motor auto focus means slow and gear grinding AF noises. Also, the optics are showing their 1990's age when ISO is pushed around 3200. Compared to my "L" lenses in the same ISO range, the resolution of the lens pushes it limits with high megapixel cameras such as the T3i. For the price, who can beat this quality? Well, the Canon EF 35mm f/2 lens is showing it's age but still is a favorite in my camera bag.

The widest of the group is the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 and the most expensive. I was very disappointed with this USM lens. Although the picture above is really cute but there is no "L" pop like the other lens in the comparison. It looks flat like a kit lens. The AF is faster but that does not make up the horrible chromatic aberration in high contrast areas wide open at f/1.8. I even tried to correct the excessive purple fringing with Canon Digital Photo Professional for raw processing and correction, but no luck. Not a good choice for my camera bag, definitely.

All paths in the jungle lead to my SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 verdict. This lens is a complete dream for crop cameras. The fast aperture combined with the unique focal length makes great bokeh for still pictures and for video capture. The Hyper Sonic Motor is a close second in speed compared to the Ultra Sonic Motor of Canon's AF. The price makes the SIGMA a great value when you look at the features. SIGMA even includes a lens hood. What a deal!

Now for the SIGMA negatives. The wonderful SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM is designed only for crop sensor cameras. It is the Canon EF-S equivalent for lens mounts. You can mount the SIGMA lens to a Canon 1D APS-H sensor but you will get slight vignetting. I solved that with a slight crop of the picture or the peripheral illumination correction in Adobe Lightroom. A little time consuming but manageable. Full frame cameras such as the 5D Mark II is definitely not an option with this lens.

The second negative maybe part user error and the extremely tight focal plane of f/1.4 when it comes to AF accuracy. I had my share of OOF shots at f/1.4. Although soft focus images are expected when shooting handheld, it seems a little more prevalent with the SIGMA in my unscientific opinion.

Now for the SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Video Test. Armed with various helpful DSLR cinematic tools, I captured some 1080p video with this dreamy lens. The 30mm focal length makes composition a snap complemented by the fast aperture to give great bokeh. F/1.4 is challenging when it comes to focusing the shot. Even with my trusty Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 2.5x viewfinder, achieving correct focus can test your eyesight and patience.

A 1080p video shot with the Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D at 29.97fps. Edited with iMovie'11 and used Quicktime to compress a 700mb H264 video file. I mainly used the SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM, Canon EF-S 17-55mm f.2.8 IS and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS Lenses. For audio, I used a Sennheiser MKE400 shotgun microphone. I also used a Manfrotto 701 HDV fluid video head with Benro 3580 tripod legs. For focus, I used a Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 2.5x viewfinder.

A 1080p video shot with the Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D at 29.97 fps. Edited with Apple iMovie'11 and used Apple Quicktime to compress a 980mb H264 video file. Equipment used: Sennheiser MKE400 shotgun microphone, Benro 3580 and Manfrotto 3221wn tripod legs, Manfrotto 701 and 501 HDV fluid video heads, Fader ND Mark II Variable Neutral Density Filter and the Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 2.5x viewfinder.

The SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM is a mighty contender in the budget priced wide angle fast prime category. The recent surge in Canon lens prices due to the recent tragic earthquake and Tsunami in Japan makes other third party brands a viable choice in today's DSLR lens market. Until supply of Canon glass outweighs worldwide consumer demand, the SIGMA brand will lead and shine as an overall best value for fast lenses.

You can view more pictures and videos in my SIGMA 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Lens Review Gallery.

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