Category Archives: Review - Page 2

USB 2.0 PCMCIA card for Mac OS X

My 867MHz PowerBook G4 still works reasonably well, especially after I upgraded the hard drive. The worst thing with it, is that it only has USB 1.1-ports. For external hard drives, iPod syncronization and digital cameras, USB 1.1 is really too slow. Miserable as I am, I ordered a very cheap USB 2.0 PCMCIA card, rumored to work well in Mac OS X. The card model reads: “AKE USB2.0 Cardbus BC168“.

Does it work with Mac OS X (10.5.8)? YES!

I inserted it into my G4. After a few seconds I got a little icon in the menu bar, next to the bluetooth menu. The first menu item says “Unknown Vendor USB Controller”. The card works perfectly, immediately, without any need to install any drivers! PCMCIA cannot provide very much electrical current, so if you need extra power there is a little cable that you connect from one of your USB 1.1 ports to your PCMCIA card (USB memory, digital camera, iPod nano is fine without; 2.5inch external hard drive needs extra power).

How about performance? Well, copying files to and from an external hard drive gives me transfer rates of about 15Mb/s, with no significant CPU load. I like it!

Testing a 25mm Extension Tube

A few weeks ago I tested a Macro Effect filter. The results were not that impressive. I decided to spend some more money on an original Canon EF-25 II Extension Tube (the “II” is critical if you have EF-S lenses).

The Extension Tube is simply a 25 mm long piece of metal pipe, that fits perfectly between your camera and your lens. You can get cheap ones (that doesn’t have electrical connectors) or expensive ones. They have no glass anyway.

Moving the lens away from the camera (sensor) has two effects:

  1. it crops the picture, making objects larger
  2. it changes the shortest possible distance usable for the lens

It is the second effect is the crazy cool one. For my two EF-S lenses, and my fixed 50mm EF lens, this is the effect:

   Lens        Original Range               New Range (roughly)
   18-55 mm     25 cm - infinity             0 cm - 20 cm
   55-250 mm   110 cm - infinity            15 cm - 400 cm
   50 mm        45 cm - infinity            10 cm - 15 cm

So, I can get really close to the object. However, it is now impossible to focus on anything far away. There is of course some math, some science, and some theory about this, but I dont really know much about it.

With the extension tube on, zooming does not really work as expected. Instead, the zoom decides the rough focus distance. So, for the tele lens, at 55 mm I can focus on things roughly 15 cm away. As I zoom in towards 250 mm, the focus distance increases to 4 meters. The size of the object in the lens is somewhat constant, since I move away from the target at the same time as I zoom in more and more. The focus ring can be used to fine-adjust focus, but if the zoom is not fairly correct, you can never get focus. With some luck, auto focus works.

Train revisited
Of course I started photographing the same train as I did with the Macro Effect filter. RAW mode used, picture exported to JPEG with iPhoto.

18-55@44, 2.5 sec (ISO800), ~15 cm from object

As I see it, the picture is much better than what was achieved with the cheap Macro Effect lens. Especially, the picture is sharp not just in the middle. Lets look at a crop:

Crop of text details

As I see it, this crop of the center of the picture is slightly sharper than with the Macro Effect filter.

Finally, something more artistic.

18-55@36, f/9.0, 1.6s, ISO100

Even if this is at 36 mm, I cant get much closer, because the object hits the lens. Not possible to go all the way down to 18 mm.

18-55@53, f/9.0, 5s, ISO100

Would I recommend anyone to pay almost EUR 150 for this thing? Well, it is small, and it turns your 18-55 kit lens into a macro lens. The result is much better than a cheap filter. Perhaps for the 18-55 lens it is better to get the 12 mm extension tube…

For more nice macro photos, try this page.

Testing a Macro-Effect lens filter

Cheap stuff that works is always cool! I ordered a “Macro Effect” lens filter from DealExtreme. What kind of Macro Photography can you do for $8.99?

I decided I wanted to photograph one of my Z-scale (1:220) Märklin steam engines. My objective: to find out what the printing on the side of the train is. When you look at the pictures below, remember that the whole train is about 80mm long.

Equipment:

All pictures are taken with Aperture F=10, ISO 100. Exposure times decided by the camera. RAW format was used but the pictures below are made JPEG-crappy with iPhoto.

Without Macro Effect filter
First are two pictures taken without the Macro Effect lens filter. These pictures are taken at roughly the shortest possible distance, using a suitable focal length.

55-250@163, 2 sec, ~110 cm from object



18-55@45, 2 sec, ~25 cm from object



I decided the pictures to be of roughly the same quality and I made a crop of the second one that shows the center part of the picture in native resolution (one RAW pixel corresponds to one JPEG pixel):

18-55@45, 2s, crop of details



This is the “macro capability” of the standard kit-lens. Not that crappy. However, I cant read those printings on the train. Note that the DB-logotype is 2 mm long, so the letters are really really tiny.

With Macro Effect filter
Now follows four pictures using the Macro Effect lens filter. Note that these pictures are taken from 10-20 cm away from the lens. Focal depth is extremely short (a few millimeters). If possible, it is easier to focus by moving the object rather than moving the focus wheel. Now the pictures:

55-250@250, 2.5 sec



55-250@135, 6 sec



55-250@70, 6 sec



18-55@55, 4 sec



At 250 mm there is no combination of focus and distance to object that creates a sharp picture. At 135mm there is some sharpness in the middle of the picture. At 70mm it does not look so bad and 55mm is sharp almost to the sides. Not however, that the focal depth is just a few millimeters. I decided to make a crop of the text details of the 55mm picture though:

18-55@55, 4 sec, crop of details



Now the characters are clearly readable! Other people can judge the artistic value of this 😉

Conclusions
The $8.99 Macro-Effect 10x lens filter does have some effect. It does amplify your object, giving you better Macro capability. You can use it with a 18-55mm EFS lens. However, with a 55-250mm lens things do not get sharp in most of the range. The macro limit of your camera gets much shorter with the Macro-Effect lens attached. Photographing without a tripod is very hard. Focal depths get close to 0.

For many purposes, a tripod, a good flash, and digital zoom will probably give you a better result than this Macro-Effect lens filter does.

It would be interesting to try a Macro Extension tube as well to see how it compares.