Good Morning and welcome to Ask a Geek Anything, Issue 17
Welcome back to our sanctuary for obscure facts and hotly debated opinion. We at AAGA will try to answer anything that won’t have us tossed off the Bridge of Death. The boss will be back next week, so this week’s dive into the unknown is put together by our geeky nurse, Amanda Fuesting.
First up, Jolie Lachance asks: “Dear ask a geek, how do I make my macro work on my digital SLR? Also any focusing tips? Is it time to step away from intelligent auto and do for myself?”
Our very own redhead of doom and photography guru, Cedar, answers: Getting started with Macro photography.
First of all, you don’t need a DSLR in order to shoot the small stuff. It’s useful, but a point-and-shoot like the Sony Cybershot or the Olympus 820 can manage good pictures of bugs and flowers. You can always rig up a lens to your cell phone or point and shoot, like this guy. Yes, you can shoot macro with your cell phone. I have friends who swear by the Ollo clip, and I’ve been tempted to try it myself but my cell phone’s camera is screwy.
However, if you want the highest magnification and the best clarity in your pictures, you will want to invest in a DSLR set up. The bare minimum you will need is a camera body, an 18-55mm kit lens (I shoot a lot with a fixed focal length 50 mm lens as well) and lens extension tubes. If you want to be able to autofocus, then look for a set with the electrical contacts, I got mine for around $50, which is a tenth of the cost of a dedicated macro lens. You can also reverse a lens – ever look through binoculars from the wrong end? It’s like that – but I’d recommend buying a connecter rather than attempting to freehand this.
Speaking of freehanding, I live life on the difficult setting, so I usually shoot freehanded and with manual focus. It’s a lot like shooting a rifle – breathe out, and slowly, gently, squeeze the trigger – but it will work better for most people if you use a tripod to stabilize the camera when you are shooting with macro. If you’re going to be out in the field, I like my little gorilla tripod for sheer flexibility. If you’re really worried about camera shake, look for a remote shutter trigger as well.
Because you have such a limited depth of field, and need a fast shutter speed if you are shooting bugs, say, you will need more light. A flash is inadequate for this, as your lens is so close to the subject as to shadow it from the flash burst. Instead, you need a ring light, which surrounds the lens and lights the subject from all sides.
Do you need to buy all these things? Not necessarily, although camera equipment can be had very cheaply these days (although I will caution you to read reviews before buying). Look around on the internet for articles on DIY, there are plenty of them on building lightboxes, weird rigs for shooting, and more conceptual set-ups than I can dream up. Photography is a hobby that can be expensive, or done on the cheap. Macro photography can open a window onto a tiny, overlooked world that exists literally under our noses.
I’ll check in on the comments and answer any specifics, and if there’s special interest, I’ll do a longer post on my blog later on.
Next up, Paul Howard asks: “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
Our budding physics nerd, Jason Fuesting, answers: African or European?
[Much snorting later] Actually, a reasonable guesstimation to this age old question exists! Jonathan Corum, on 13pt, delves into this question in detail. As it happens, little detail is available on African species of swallows, but European swallows (Hirundo rustica) have seen quite a bit of study. For our purposes, suffice it to say that the air-speed of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour. Those of curious heart are encouraged to visit Jonathan’s article for details prior to attempting the Bridge of Death. I hear there are freshly barbequed minstrels on the other side. Yaaaaaaay.
Last up, Old Shib asks: “Name an author that you had to read as soon as the book came out as a teenager and kinda avoid now (Piers Anthony, for me), What books do you read almost on a yearly basis (Pratchett, City Watch series).” As is our habit on questions of opinion here as AAGA, this will get two answers.
The first answer comes from our magnificently bearded book critic, Joseph Capdepon II: I don’t have an author that I used to read that I don’t read now, though Stephen King does kind of fit the premise of the question. I used to buy every book he released as it was released. Now, I tend to wait to buy his books and pick them up at used book stores. An author would have to do something really terrible for me to avoid.
I usually read Dune, Starship Troopers and the first Monster Hunter International book, Monster Hunter International, on a regular basis. John Ringo’s Ghost gets read regularly as well, but Dune and Starship Troopers are probably two of the books that I have reread the most in my collection. They were two of the first big science fiction novels I ever read and both have a special place in my heart.
I will take the second answer, so it feels like I am earning my keep here. I actually still read all the authors I really loved as a teenager. The only author who I’ve drifted somewhat from is Laurell K. Hamilton, with her Anita Blake books. That has more to do with the content of the later books not really having the same kind of story that drew me to the series to start with than anything, and I have no issues with the writer herself. I am still an avid reader of her Merry Gentry books. I read a number of books on a regular basis. The Black Jewels Trilogy (and most of the other books in that world) from Anne Bishop is a series I read a least once a year. Monster Hunter International from Larry Correia gets read a lot, as does Have Spacesuit, Will Travel from Robert A. Heinlein (actually, I read all of his books quite a bit), The Weapon and Freehold from Michael Z. Williamson, and several others. It’s a long list, and we simply don’t have the space for it this week.
That’s it for this week, folks. As our last bit of news, you can now e-mail us questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/askageekanythingowg . We have all the old articles there and will update it every week with new ones, as well as take questions from posts. If you’re so inclined, we’d appreciate it if you could like and share the page, because we’re running really low on questions to answer!