Camera Obscura


According to Wikipedia: “A camera obscura (Latin; “camera” is a “vaulted chamber/room”, “obscura” means “dark”, camera obscura = “darkened chamber/room”) is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved.”

According to me, a camera obscura is one of the fun, wacky, quirky things I discovered in my first tentative days living in the Bay Area.

Down at Ocean Beach, over by the Cliff House, there is a really wonderful camera obscura that was installed in 1946.

Just for whimsy, it’s actually shaped like a camera (the camera obscura was a precursor to pinhole cameras and the beginnings of photography).

Photo by Karen Fayeth, Copyright 2011

The camera obscura at the Cliff House used to be right next to the Musee Mechanique, a mesmerizing collection of vintage penny arcade games. The Musee Mechanique moved to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2002, but the camera obscura lives on at Ocean Beach.

The little triangle mirror apparatus at the top spins slowly, so you get this really enchanting 360-degree view of the beach, Seal Rocks, and the surroundings. It’s all reflected onto this white dish shaped table in the center of the small, dark room.

Between the camera obscura and the Musee Mechanique, I could get lost for hours. Fresh off the highway from New Mexico, it was some of the coolest stuff I’d ever seen in my life.

When The Good Man and I paid a visit to the Cliff House this weekend, I was so excited to see the camera obscura is still there. It wasn’t open that day, but it’s there. And that makes me happy.

It was added to the National Register of Historic places in 2001, and is now under the conservancy of the National Park Service, so hopefully it will project on for many years.

The camera obscura makes me so nostalgic. I adore it!

That’s me. My purse was under my jacket, so that’s why my jacket tails are sticking out at such an angle. That and the fact that I’m simply a dork of epic proportions.

Photo taken by The Good Man, Copyright Karen Fayeth 2011

Photos Copyright Karen Fayeth 2011, and taken with an iPhone4 using the Hipstamatic and the Camera+ apps.

Photography at Your Own Risk

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Trying to step up my photographic game a bit. Recent feedback I’ve received says I need to work on light and light balance.

So to work through some of this, I bought a not-super-expensive light tent from the good people over at ThinkGeek.

It’s a nice little kit with a handy carrying bag. In one neat kit there is a light tent, two lights, a desktop tripod and clips.

But in order to get the light tent into this fun little carry bag, they made the tent itself with those flexy bendy wires that they use in some sun shields for cars.

I pulled it out of the bag and it did this:

(double click the box below to get it to play, click again to stop)

Or click here

Holy Crap! I almost peed myself.

Once I did finally sort out the ding dang thing, *someone* decided it was their new house. There was a lot of biting when I tried to remove the object obstructing my photographic progress.

Who knew I needed protective goggles, chain mail gloves and a helmet to take some simple desktop shots! Sheesh!

Photo and video Copyright 2011, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the terms of the Creative Commons license in the far right column of this and every page.

iPhone Telephoto Lens – Another Unsolicited Review

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Yesterday I chatted about the faboo macro/wide glass lens kit I purchased from the good people at Photojojo.

While I sort of dig that little macro lens, I’m absolutely stunningly in love with the item I want to talk about today.

It’s an 8x telephoto lens for the iPhone.

If being able to get clear close up shots on the iPhone is a pet peeve of mine, then the lack of a real zoom puts me right over the edge.

The iPhone camera purports to have a zoom feature, but it’s really just a crop and zoom on the image, not an actual lens feature. So when the zoom is used on the iPhone camera, what you get is a crappy, noisy photo. This makes me cranky.

When I saw a random Tweet about this telephoto lens for the iPhone, I knew I had to have it.

It’s an 8x fixed length zoom. When using the lens you get 8x and that’s it. The lens comes with a focus ring, but that’s about it as far as bells and whistles are concerned.

Here’s the box the whole kit arrives in. Clearly they are striving for that Apple look and feel:

Here’s the kit that comes in the box. You get the lens, a case that the lens screws into for a perfect mounting and fit, a spring loaded tripod mounting device, and a small tripod (you’ll need the tripod, it’s really hard to hold this thing still as the lens throws off the balance):

Here’s a closer shot of the lens itself. Those cute little focal length numbers on there are just for show and not useful in any way.

And here’s a view of the lens itself. Pretty sweet:

Here’s a good shot of how the kit looks when it is all put together. I was having trouble getting a decent photo to show the whole assembled kit, so I found one from a review on the ePHOTOzine site:

Photo credit: ePHOTOzine

This isn’t a high end lens for high end photographers, but it’s sure a heck of a lot of fun. I really get a kick out of playing around just to see what I can get. I really think that the realm of iPhoneography is growing fast. I’ve seen some amazing work already. Crazy how fast that phone in your pocket became more than just a phone.

Here are some sample shots I took a few weeks ago. These shots were taken from the balcony of a seventh floor room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. I love the depth of field I was able to achieve using this fun little plastic lens. There is no way the iPhone itself would have taken these kind of photos.

The first two I took using the Hipstamatic app. The third I used the Camera+ app to take the photos.

So upside of this little toy lens…it’s fun, it works as described, and at $35 from the Photojojo store, it doesn’t break the bank.

The downside, on some photos you can see the edges of the lens in the photo, but I was able to either crop or Photoshop that out in most cases (in the third sample photo above, I used the clone and stamp tool to remove, easy peasy).

Like the iPhone camera alone, the lens needs lots of light to help it along.

The kit can be a little cumbersome to assemble, as the case I normally have on the phone has to come off to accommodate the case that the lens threads into. That case isn’t really an everyday case, so that swapping around that can be kind of bothersome.

This lens won’t replace the zoom feature on any point and shoot with an 8x optical zoom, but it’s not supposed to. This little fun plastic lens is meant to be another tool to explore the bounds of the iPhone camera to see what you can create.

And for me, I’m rather head over heels in love with this little ingenious telephoto lens.

The first lens I bought arrived with some pieces of black plastic rolling around inside. I contacted Photojojo and they apologized profusely and sent a new one to me immediately. The didn’t require me to send back the old one either. Excellent customer service!

The good people at Photojojo simply impressed me so much with their products and customer service that I chose to write this review. They didn’t ask me to or pay me for my opinions. Just passing along a good thing.

Except as noted, all photos by Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right hand column of this page.

New Lenses – An Unsolicited Review


In the magical world of Twitter, after seeing a couple interesting retweets, I came across a site called Life in LoFi: iPhoneography.

Life in LoFi is a site dedicated to the emerging art of photography taken solely with the iPhone camera (or iPad or iPod). Lately I have been really into shooting with my iPhone, so I was happy to stumble across these good folks.

The Life in LoFi people are worth a follow if you are into iPhoneography. I’ve made good use of their tweets about photography apps that are either on sale or free. In the past two months I have picked up scores of new apps that I’d never have found on my own, and most of them were heavily discounted or free. There’s some amazing and powerful photography apps out there these days.

And then one day, the Life in LoFi people turned me on to a site called Photojojo. I’m probably massively behind the times in this discovery, but so be it.

Photojojo is dedicated to tips and tricks, and some of the best and most intriguing products for digital photography. Well, this site is right up my alley.

I sashayed over to the Photojojo online store and explored their offerings. My first purchase was a really fantastically cool item that I hope to review tomorrow. I had a little mechanical glitch with the product on that first order, and the Photojojo took care of me so well (customer service that goes above and beyond, truly) that I chose to go back to the online store to buy more product to support such a wonderful store.

Finally we get to the meaty part of this post. One of the items I bought from the Photojojo team was a real, honest to goodness glass lens for my iPhone. It’s a combo macro and wide angle lens.

Here’s what the kit looks like out of the box:

The macro lens is the smaller piece and is used alone. The two lens pieces screw together to become one solid lens for the wide angle shots.

Here’s the tricky part…this lens attaches to the iPhone by way of magnets. See that metal circle to the right in the below photo (center in above photo)? That has reusable stickum on it. You stick that ring around the iPhone camera lens (if you have a case on your phone, that has to come off). Then the lens sticks with a strong magnet to the metal ring.

I’ll be honest…it’s not a very elegant solution. It works, but it’s less than perfect.

Here are some photo examples to get a good idea of what the lenses can do.

This is a normal photo taken with the QuickPix app with no lens other than the one built into the phone.

This is the same photo at the same distance with the wide angle lens attached. It has a bit of a fisheye look to it, and you can see the sides of the lens in the corners, but that’s fairly easily cropped off. I did no touchup other than shrinking the size and a little boost on light balance in iPhoto.

Same photo with the macro lens. I got as close as I could and while keeping the object in focus.

The macro photo is not bad. It’s WAY better than anything the iPhone camera can do on its own. For example, I didn’t know my keyboard key had scratches in it until I took this photo. I’d never have captured that with the regular iPhone camera.

All of these photos are a bit noisy as 1) the iPhone camera just comes with a lot of noise and 2) I was not in the best lighting situation for these photos. I find with the iPhone camera, light is everything in order to make a decent photo.

One of my biggest complaints about the iPhone camera is the inability to get close up shots that are in focus. This little stick on lens really fits the macro bill. I’m not completely in love with the form factor of the sticky ring and magnet, but I’m able to make it work. I’ve played around with it some and find that overall, I’m quite happy.

This real glass wide/macro lens cost me the meager sum of $20 plus shipping from the Photojojo store. A bargain, in my opinion.

Tomorrow, I’ll review my other purchase from Photojojo. It’s another lens, but while the macro/wide angle lens simply makes happy, the lens I’ll chat about tomorrow knocks my socks off.

Stay tuned photo friends! I’m whipping out my book of superlatives!

The good people at Photojojo simply impressed me so much with their products and customer service that I chose to write this review. They didn’t ask me to or pay me for my opinions. Just passing along a good thing.

All photos by Karen Fayeth, taken with the QuickPix app, and subject to the Creative Commons license found in the far right column.