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Archive for the ‘Digital Photography’ Topic

2013.04.03

Each week, we get a dozen or emails saying how great the image quality is from such an such camera we reviewed. Thank you! One would think this normal of large-sensor cameras such as DSLRs and most mirrorless models, but we even get a similar number of emails for ultra-compacts and ultra-zooms which use relatively small sensors.

Frankly, most small cameras do not deliver great image quality. They cannot but they can produce great images. People often confuse great images with great quality. These are completely different and unrelated things.

Image Quality encompasses all aspects of how a camera and lens capture a scene. There several aspect which comprise image quality and they may be attributed to the camera or lens:

  • Image-Noise – The amount of speckles and random variation in an image.
  • Dynamic-Range – The range of contrast from a scene which can be captured.
  • Color-Depth – The richness and gradations of colors.
  • Color-Accuracy – The accuracy of colors relative to our perception.
  • Sharpness – The definition of edges and details.
  • Resolution – The size of details than can be captured.
  • Distortion – The faithfulness of shapes.
  • Vignetting – The uniformity of illumination.
  • Aberrations – The appearance of colors and light which is not present in the scene.
  • Flare – The reflection of light within a lens.

These apply differently depending on the camera and some, such as color-accuracy, only apply to an image processed in-camera rather than a RAW file. Image quality is a property of the camera and lens at a certain setting. Using a different ISO, shutter-speed, image-parameters (JPEG), aperture or focal-length can result in different image quality from the same camera and lens combination.

Greatness has to do with success as an image. It is much more difficult to quantify and resides in how a viewer relates to an image as realized by the photographer which decides and controls some of the following aspects:

  • Subject – What the photographer wants in the image.
  • Framing – How subjects fir within the image.
  • Light – The light illuminating and reflecting of objects in a scene.
  • Color – Colors present in an image.
  • Moment – The time when a photo is taken.
  • Exposure – How a scene is captured.
  • Rendition – How an image is rendered.

With success, there are far less absolutes than with image quality. Something which may for work for one subject can easily fail for another. Plus, a photograph may appear successful to one viewer while appearing a complete failure to another.

The only way to improve success is to hone photography skills through learning, experimenting and a critical eye.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2013.03.15

A tripod has real benefits to photography and should be used anytime you can. Here is why:

  • Stability: No matter how fast your shutter-speed is going to be, a good tripod can do better. There is a rule-of-thumb that says you need a certain shutter-speed (1/focal-length) get a sharp enough image but it does not guarantee one.
  • Creativity: A tripod lets you shoot at low shutter-speeds. Even though you could shoot faster, you may not want to. Maybe you want more depth-of-field or blurred motion.
  • Precision: With a tripod you can set your camera position exactly and it stays there. Getting your camera level and keeping it level is much easier with a tripod. Plus, with the camera fixed there, you can take the time to check all your edges and composition without the view shifting as you do it.
  • Repetition: You obviously know that HDR or time-lapse require repetition of precise framing but those aren’t the only case where this can be useful. You may have taken the time to perfectly frame your shot only to suddenly have something unwanted move into the frame. With the camera firmly on the tripod, you can take the same exact shot after the unwanted element has been removed.
  • Self-Inclusion: With a tripod you can put yourself in the frame. You can try camera tossing instead but you cannot control framing that way.
  • Panoramas: Try rotating around the nodal-point without a tripod! It is much easier to get all the shots you need with a tripod and even easier with a specialized head with marked positions.

There are certainly plenty of situation when a tripod is not an option. In some locations, it may be simply forbidden. In others, it may simply be impractical due to size and weight concerns. And finally, tripods are too restrictive when you need to move quickly which is the case for many types of photography.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2013.03.06

Trips often provide incredible opportunities for photography. Given the slim chances of returning to the same place, this creates a strong incentive to shoot as much as possible which  results in huge volumes of digital images and videos. As data volumes rise, the fear of losing all those one-of-a-kind images reaches a new level.

While we have already covered general strategies for Backing Up Digital Media at home, on-the-go temporary backups require a strategy adapted to travel constraints. Weight and bandwidth produce the majority of such constraints which vary somewhat depending on how and where you travel.

Having a backup implies there is a primary copy somewhere. Nearly all digital cameras record images and videos directly onto a flash memory card. With enough cards to cover an entire trip, this easily becomes the primary copy. This is a great option for a primary copy since flash memory is very reliable and durable. Otherwise, data has to regularly be transferred onto another device which is going to be your primary copy.

Laptop DVD Open

Several storage options exist for either a primary copy or backup copy. Remember that without enough  memory cards,  there needs to be two copies in order for one to be a backup. This can be on devices of the same type or not but cannot be on the same physical device. The usual options for digital media storage on the go are:

  • Optical Disk: This is the most reliable option with sizes of up to 50GB for a Dual-Layer Blu-Ray disk. 4.5GB DVD are among the cheapest-per-disk and most widely available. They are relatively slow to burn and write errors are costly.
  • Portable Hard-Disk: This is the easiest storage media to use. Traditional hard-disks are very fast and Solid-State Disks (SSD) are extremely fast. While the former are the cheapest-per-volume, they are very fragile. The latter are rather expensive but ultra-reliable over the short-term and extremely durable.
  • Cloud Storage: This is a rarely feasible option while traveling considering typical upload speeds and variable reliability of internet connections around the world. Even using fast connections in the modern world, transferring over a few gigabytes daily should not be depended upon. However, when possible, this can be extremely reliable as it gives both duplication and distribution at the same time.

Optical disks have several additional advantages:

  1. Disks have no value, unlike a laptop or portable hard-disk. This means they are not themselves a target for thieves. Just avoid leaving in a laptop or camera bag. Otherwise, they may be taken unintentionally.
  2. Storage is cheap because blank DVDs are cheap. You can burn as many as you want.
  3. Distribution is easy:  Mail a copy to yourself every few days for an easy way to get both duplication and distribution of data.
  4. Replication is simple. Just burn everything twice or more.

There are two reasons to avoid portable hard-drives while traveling:

  1. Those based on traditional hard-disk drives are fragile. One drop and a it is dead. Having moving parts is what makes them most fragile. With some models, you can get around this by replacing the disk with an SSD which solves this problem for a hefty price. It does not avoid the next point though.
  2. These devices are valuable. Because they cost money, the will be a target for thieves just like a laptop or camera.

Portable hard drive with a small form-factor have one more issue which is that they stop working above 10,000′ (3000m) from sea level. This includes some but not all iPods. Although this specified altitude is not a hard-limit, every single iPod in a group I was traveling with failed once we crossed 3200m of altitude.

Having your own laptop simplifies things as it can serve as portable hard-drive and may have a built-in burner. Those with burners tend to be somewhat larger but they are practical. Those who travel with one are able to make integrity checks on each copy to ensure its validity.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2013.03.02

There is often the misconception from newcomers that if you shoot RAW, then you do not have to deal with White-Balance.  This is simply untrue. WB must be applied in order to render a pleasing image. When shooting JPEG, the camera applies it. When shooting RAW, the conversion software applies it. Just like you must set the correct WB when recording JPEG images, you must also do it when converting RAW files into images.

This happens because RAW files do not have WB applied except for an embedded JPEG used for previewing. Therefore, it is up to you to apply the correct WB when converting those files into images.

Just to be clear, there is no single WB setting that makes all images look natural. Even a software’s automatic white-balance or as-shot white-balance is far more often wrong than the camera’s AWB setting. Each image shot under the same light though usually requires the same WB. Some applications, such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, let you  synchronize settings between images and you can therefore choose the WB once per set and synchronize it.

Ideally, you photograph a special WB target each time you intend to take photos under a different lighting. This image then is used to pick the correct white-point for the whole set. When the correct WB is chosen, the WB target turns white and remaining colors appear neutral.

Should you have forgotten or lack the time to do that. What you need is to do the same with an object that you think should be neutral, a piece of paper in the scene, a white t-shirt, concrete, etc. Use Use anything that you know is neutral in color.

Without any such thing, you have to do things by eye and that requires a well calibrated monitor, otherwise you can make things worse. For example, if your monitor is too yellow when you make things look neutral, they will end up blue. What helps in a scene with no neutral objects is that viewers also lack a reference point, so they will be less prone to notice a color-cast.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

2013.02.19

Exposure modes separate parameters controlled by the photographer from those controlled by the camera. On digital cameras, ISO is treated as a separate parameter which can be either in the photographer’s control (Manual ISO) or in the camera’s (Auto ISO). Once in a mode with more than one parameter to set, the question arises of which exposure-parameter to set first?

Mode Dial

The answer depends on your priorities. You have to start somewhere on the exposure-triangle and prioritize accordingly depending on the shot you want. This depends on the creative impact of each parameter.

Here are some examples. Just remember that ultimately it comes to your creative vision and requires a prior understanding of how each parameter affects an image.

  • Aperture first for landscapes: This establishes the desired depth-of-field. Then,  ISO second to get the maximum image quality, maximum dynamic-range and minimize noise. This leaves shutter-speed to be whatever is needed for a pleasing exposure.
  • Aperture first for architecture too:. Sets the depth-of-field as required. Then, blur out people by selecting a long shutter-speed second. The ISO the  falls where it needs to be.
  • ISO first for sports: Set it to the highest acceptable value for the intended print size. Then, set aperture second to something bright but not necessarily the widest to account for imprecise focus.This leaves the shutter-speed to set itself.
  • Shutter-speed first for sports: This is valid and frequently used strategy  It has two failings though, one is that you have to guess at which shutter-speed to select. Pick one that is too high and you may get under-exposure. Pick one that is too low and you get a lot of blur. By setting the ISO first instead, the goal is to get the highest shutter-speed possible which results in a correct exposure.
  • For creative work, aperture is most often the priority because it has the most impact on the image. If there is any movement, shutter-speed is next and finally ISO. If there is no movement, then ISO gets set before shutter-speed because, in such case, ISO has an impact on the image but shutter-speed does not.

Note that these are not rules, only guidelines. Sometimes shutter-speed becomes a higher priority in one of those cases for example. Each decision is guided by a mix of creativity and constraints. Creative options get chosen first and the last parameter generally falls into place. Even then, a carefully chosen ND filter can shift things to get a more desirable result.

Neocamera Blog Neocamera.com © Cybernium

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