Joseph, Photography

You Asked For It – ISO performance

Today I thought I would talk a little about ISO.  Before I do I would like to invite you all to my new project and I hope you will enjoy it.  It’s named X-tended Vision.

What exactly is ISO ?

Back in the days of film it was called ASA and the lower the number was, the less sensitive to light the emulsion of the film would be. For example Kodachrome 25 was a popular slide film and as the number in it’s name would indicate the ASA was 25. Kodachrome was a great all purpose slide film for landscapes and general purpose photography, but it was not something you would want to use for a sporting event where you would want to capture action. Another popular film that I loved using was Kodak Tri-X which was rated at 400 ASA. This was a great black and white film that you would use for dimly lit stage shows or concerts. You would also be able to “push” process this film where you would shoot the film at 800 ASA or higher in your camera and manipulate the processing time and temperature of the chemicals. When this film was “push” processed you would see a increase in the grain of the film where it would give the printed photo a coarse look or a more gritty kind of look.

That was then and this is now, but we have still have some similarities when talking about ISO. When using digital camera at is default base ISO (normally in the 100 to 200 range) your image quality will be at its best, then it will slowly degrade as you raise the ISO. Modern digital cameras are much better at higher ISO settings than cameras produced just a few years ago. I remember when I owned a Nikon D2X camera it produced some of the most wonderful images at its base ISO, but raising the ISO to 800 would degrade the image quality greatly. The D2X was a very expensive professional camera but when Nikon introduced the D300 it blew the D2X away when it came to higher ISO performance at about 1/3 the price. Then Nikon introduced the D7000 about 2 years later and blew the D300 away with high ISO performance at about 2/3rd of the price. As digital technology has evolved high ISO performance has also improved greatly.

I no longer use Nikons as most of you already know, I now use Fujifilm X cameras which are well known for their high ISO performance. I am not discouraging people from using Nikon or any other brand of camera, I am still very fond of the Nikon products I once used but for me I find the “user experience” combined with the high ISO performance of the X-T1’s I am using now to be a much better value for my money. I am not saying Nikon does not have great high ISO performance so please don’t send comments stating the Nikons you own have great high ISO performance, I already know this.  I am merely saying in my opinion when you factor cost into the equation I think the Fuji’s give you more bang for the buck.

I guess I should take a moment to explain “user experience” a little more so people don’t think I am a more “flaky” than I already am. I learned photography on film cameras which had shutter speed dials on the top of the camera and aperture rings on the lenses not command dials. I tend to favor separate dials for ISO, shutter speed and aperture rings because they feel like they are second nature to me. There is nothing wrong with command dials on other brands of cameras (the Fuji X-T1 also has front command dials but I elect not to use them). This is merely a case of “to each their own”.

The grain in faster film could be compared to the color noise or artifacts produced by a sensor in a digital camera operating above its base ISO. In the following photographs I will try to show you the differences in images shot at higher ISO’s.

All images were shot with a Fuji X-T1 and XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro lens set to f/4.0 and camera mounted to a tripod. The only variable is shutter speed which changed as the ISO increased. All images are unmodified jpeg files.

Here is the first image shot at ISO 200

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 Nothing out of the ordinary in this image as expected.  White balance is good and colors are accurate.  ISO 200 is default for the X-T1

This image was shot at ISO 400

ExampleTwo400 (1 of 1)

Still great performance at this ISO

This image was shot at 800 ISO

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Still great performance at this ISO nothing that cannot be adjusted in Lightroom.

This image was shot at 1600 ISO

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Still damn good performance at this ISO but we start to see less saturated colors.  Still can be adjusted easy in Lightroom.

This image was shot at 3200 ISO

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Still very good performance but in addition to colors being less saturated the small text appears to be less sharp.

This image was shot at 6400 ISO

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Still a pretty good performance but now we start to see some grain or a little color noise affecting sharpness.

This image was shot at 12800 ISO

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This is still respectable performance but the sharpness is definilty being affected as evidenced by the small text and the mark to the left of the Eclipse sensor cleaning fluid on the blue background.

This image was shot at 25600 ISO

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This is still not a bad image if you really needed this ISO to grab the shot but sharpness and noise is really starting to take its toll.

Now I probably shot myself in the foot by using a camera with the high ISO performance such as the X-T1 but I hope you will see the difference.  My original intent was to shoot this series of images with the Sony RX100 but as usual I waited until the last minute to write this post and someone bought my RX100 and the replacement  Fuji X30 did not arrive yet.

I would suggest for all who are reading to run this same test with your own cameras.  Set your camera to aperture priority, pick an aperture and start at your cameras default ISO.  With each image double your ISO and see how far you can go before your images are unacceptable when viewed on a computer screen.  Remember to use available light and a tripod.  Testing the ISO performance of you camera can go a long way in telling you its limitations and if you do use the auto ISO feature on your camera you will know the maximum you should set it to for acceptable image quality.

Thanks for sticking with me and reading my post.

Joseph, Photography

You Asked For It – Electronic Flash

Today I would like to talk a little about electronic flash.  We have all seen photos and the harsh light that is created by using a cameras built in flash.  Sure the people in the photos are exposed fairly good but are those monsters lurking in the background or are they large shadows created by on camera flash ?  The flash units that are built into DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras are at best used for fill flash (outdoor photography supplemented by the onboard flash to fill in harsh shadows bright sunlight causes).

A couple of Friday’s ago I briefly discussed the benefits of the Nikon CLS system (Creative Lighting System) and how easy it was to use. Hmmm, I really can’t go there now because last week I had told you that I traded all of my Nikon gear for Fuji gear but I had withheld a couple of items to sell on my own.  Those couple of items happen to be a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight and two Nikon SB-700 Speedlights.  I also have an older Nikon SB-28DX Speedlight but more about that later.

OK Joe why would you save Nikon Speedlights and switch to Fuji equipment ?  The next thing you are going to tell us is the Nikon Speedlights will work with the Fuji.

Actually the answer is yes and no.

Huh ?

The Nikon CLS system will not work with the Fuji but the flash units will work in manual or automatic mode. Most of you won’t remember automatic modes on flash units but being I am “older than dirt”  I do remember. Most flash units have automatic modes on them. You input what ISO your camera is set to and place your camera to manual mode. You then place your flash to “auto” mode and set your shutter speed to its maximum flash synchronization speed. The LCD on the back of the flash will inform you which aperture to set your camera to and what your working distance will be. You should already know what your cameras maximum flash sync speed is. If you don’t please check your manual. Most focal plane shutters sync from 1/200 of a second and down. There are exceptions of course and some cameras sync at higher speeds and some lower.

So how do we improve the quality of light from flash units ?

One way to get more flattering light using on camera flash is to try to diffuse the light.

Huh ?

Did you ever notice on a bright sunny day the sun produces harsh distinct shadows ? This is because the light is known as “Point source light”. When it is overcast the lighting is a lot more pleasing and even.  This is because the clouds are diffusing the light. The sun is still the same size and brightness but its just being diffused. So we could say that a diffuser tends to convert a small point source light source into a larger looking or diffused light source.

There is a whole aftermarket for these diffuser products that can be purchased and some electronic flash manufacturers include small diffusing domes with their units. Some of the better portable diffusers are sold by a companies like Lumiquest, Stofen and Photoflex. They are an inexpensive way to improve the quality of light when using electronic flash.

The product below is made by Lumiquest and is called the “Pocket Bouncer” and works well if you are on a budget. It simply mounts to the top of your flash unit with Velcro and instead of facing your flash at the subject you pion your flash up and bounce the light off the diffuser. There are a multitude of products that are available to diffuse light from flash units including ones that fit over the built in pop up flash.

Figure1 (1 of 1)

Personally I am a big fan of Soft Boxes, and convertible umbrellas (umbrellas are far less expensive), but in order to utilize these items you have to move your flash off camera. This was easy when I owned the Nikon because I just used the CLS system and raised the pop up flash in the camera as a Commander for the external flash units to control them automatically and wirelessly. There are a number if ways you can trigger your off camera flashes. You can use a cable but I’m not too keen on using cables. Remember to take “Murphy’s Law” into account when thinking about using cables (If anything can go wrong, it will). Most of the time someone will trip on cables or knock your expensive flash units over. So what is the solution ?

Pocket Wizard to the rescue. OK, ok for those with dirty minds its not what you think 🙂

Below is a photo of basic Pocket Wizard transceivers.

Figure2 (1 of 1)

Pocket Wizards are automatic radio transceivers (auto sensing transmitting and receiving). You mount one on the hot shoe of your camera and you plug the other one into the PC port on your external flash. You then set them to the same channel and it works like magic. You can place your external flash up to 1500 feet from the camera and fire it wirelessly. The units I purchased were the Pocket Wizard Plus X and are fully manual units but Pocket Wizard also makes units called TT5 and Mini which are fully CLS compatible and work with your cameras TTL flash metering.

So why did you only buy two Pocket Wizards when you said you had four flash units ?

Because I only needed a way to trigger my SB-28DX Speedlight wirelessly from my camera. The SB-910 and SB-700 units have what they call optical triggers built into the units. It’s called SU-4 mode and the way it works is when the flash unit in SU-4 mode senses another flash firing, it fires. Being I will be working in full manual mode it really does not matter whether the units are being fired wirelessly or optically.

Please note: Never mount an older flash unit to the hot shoe on your newer digital camera. Older flash units use a much higher trigger voltage than the newer units designed for todays cameras and can wreak havoc on newer electronic systems. This is one of the beautiful things about the Pocket Wizard system. Only the radio gets mounted to your hot shoe and the receiver to your flash. If you are using an older flash unit the Pocket Wizard is designed to work with low and high trigger voltages.

There are many brands of radio systems available to trigger your off camera flash but I find the Pocket Wizard brand to just work every time. They have ten switchable channels so if you are working in the vicinity of other photographers who are also using Pocket Wizards you can set yours to different channels.  They are very reliable triggers and for the price ($179 for the 2 pack) I feel they are with the price.

Below is a photo of a portable softbox made by Lastolite called the EzyBox.  This unit folds flat and sets up in minutes.

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From the rear you can see the opening where you would insert the flash.

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From the front you can see the white diffuser material that helps spread the light out evenly. The interior of this unit is coated with a silver reflective material so it does not reduce the power of your flash unit drastically.

Any way you look at it the quality of flash photos greatly improves by simply removing your flash from the camera. You can shape the light, diffuse the light, concentrate or feather the light or even just use the light to create different effects.

In the photo below I used the Pocket Wizard radios combined with an older Nikon SB-28DX Speedlight mounted high on a lightstand and set to manual mode, 1/64th power. I exposed for a black background then added the flash without changing the exposure. I then had my wife look up towards the flash (she looks thrilled doesn’t she) as if she is seeing some sort of light from a divine source or maybe a spaceship, LOL.

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I hope you will consider trying off camera flash if you already own an external flash unit or you are planning to get one, or a few.  There are numerous websites that describe off camera flash techniques.  One of my favorite sites is David Hobby’s – Strobist  There is a wealth of off camera flash information on this site.

Here is a YouTube video of David Hobby taking the Cheap Camera Challenge from Kai Wong of DigitalRev TV   It will show you that it is technique and not equipment that matters.  DigitalRev TV also has videos of Chase Jarvis and Zack Arias taking the cheap camera challenge.  They are both funny and cool videos that will really make you think.

Joseph, Photography

DSLR Or Mirrorless ?

First I would like to say this post is purely my opinion so please don’t think I am singling out any particular manufacturer or promoting one system over another. I am giving my reasons for switching and my thoughts are probably out of sync with the majority of readers so as I said in last weeks post “to each their own”.

Well I finally took the plunge into the mirrorless camera world wholeheartedly yesterday. I had been building a Fujifilm system along side of my Nikon System for about a year now and I had found myself using the Nikon less and less, sorry about that West 🙂

I already was using a Fujifilm X-T1 so when the opportunity arose to get another X-T1,  Vertical battery grip, 56mm f/1.2, 23mm f/1.4, Fuji Flash and a handful of Fuji batteries and other goodies I jumped at it. I’m sure you are saying “Oh No Joe” you must have spent a small fortune on that gear. Actually I swapped my Nikon gear for the Fuji gear (except for some items which I will sell separately) so it didn’t cost me a penny. Now I am not the first person to jump ship from a DSLR to the mirrorless world but at least I have had the opportunity to use the Fuji gear side by side with the Nikon gear to sway my final decision.

Why in the world would you do a silly thing like that Joe ?

To me it the glass (lenses) is a very important aspect in deciding which system to go with. It also has a lot to do with the camera controls but more on that later. You see way back when I was an eager young buck I remember deriving great joy from going out for a days worth of shooting with prime lenses on my Canon F-1 film camera. I had a lot of those marvelous Canon FD prime lenses and all of them were fast. I don’t remember having any lens that was slower than f/2.0. I did not own a single zoom lens. My images were really good with those fast lenses and then Canon had to go and upset the whole apple cart by changing the design of their lens mount.

You might be saying to yourself “I don’t remember Canon changing their lens mount Joe” but they did. They had to change the mount design to one that would accommodate the newer cameras that were beginning to appear with electronics.

Those great Canon lenses were called breech-lock lenses and they were machined so well that all you would have to do was face the camera lens mount up and line up the dots and the lenses would practically mount themselves. All you would have to do is twist the breech-lock ring about 1/3 of a turn and your lens was securely mounted. There was no twisting of the lens against the camera body. The only thing that moved was the breech-lock ring so there was no lens mount wear or wobbly lenses. Yes those were the good old days.

So when Canon changed their mount I traded in all my gear for Nikon. One of the great things that Nikon had been able to do is retain their original mount design so not to alienate users who had accumulated years worth of lenses. Every Nikon F mount lens will fit every Nikon SLR camera no matter how old it is. The older lenses might not meter on the newer cameras but they will fit. Why Nikon was able to build upon their original mount design to accommodate electronics and Canon did not is beyond my scope, but to say the very least I was pissed. So for the next 35 years I built a Nikon system.

The time seemed to fly by and every couple of years when Nikon announced a new camera I was at the local camera shop checking it out, and most of the time buying it. Each new generation of Nikon added more and more features, so many in fact that I was sure I never use all of them. I noticed a strange thing that happened along the way though (and I am strictly talking about myself here). The more features that were added to the cameras the less I would enjoy using them. Either you would have to twist a wheel in front of the camera to change the aperture, or hold a button while twisting a wheel to adjust exposure compensation. Some features were only accessible by diving into the menu system.

Thats great, something else I have to remember.  Besides getting the correct exposure and composing my shot I had to remember dials, wheels, buttons and menus. Don’t get me wrong, having a bunch of features is great but I just didn’t feel right to me the way these features were implemented. I fully embrace technology when its enjoyable. I’m not an analog man in a digital world.

OMG look at all those glorious dials 🙂

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I guess I’m just old school, I like aperture rings on the lenses and knobs to twist with numbers on them. This is one of the reasons I started to like the Fuji cameras more and more. Besides having some of the best APS-C sensors in the business they have dials for shutter speeds, ISO, and exposure compensation. They have aperture rings on the lenses where some of us think they should be on every make of camera.  I like the way the Fuji X-Trans sensor reproduces color and B&W, and I do believe it has something to to with the non-traditional layout of the sensor (it is not a Bayer type layout).  I also liked the fact that Fuji has eliminated the AA filters on the sensor (anti-aliasing).  I know other manufacturers have removed these filters also but not at this price point. Across the entire Fuji line these filters are gone so the sharpness of the images is more to my liking.  Originally before jumping ship I was hoping when Nikon announced the df camera I would love it but, to me the Fuji X-T1 has better ergonomics.

The Fuji glass is also impressive. They have a complete lineup of fast prime lenses and the only zoom I have felt a need to buy is the 55-200 Optically Stabilized lens (yes Gale VR or OS lenses do work). Almost all of the lenses are tack sharp also. I enjoy using the fast lenses a lot, it reminds me of my days with my Canon F-1. The fact that the X-T1 has dials instead of wheels (it has wheels but you can choose not to use them) is just icing on the cake for me.

I was also very impressed with the quiet operation of the camera. If you turn the beep off you can hardly hear the shutter. There is no mirror slap as on a DSLR when you press the shutter, so I can use slower shutter speeds with a mirrorless and get sharper slightly images. There is no optical pentaprism to add weight to the camera. There is an electronic viewfinder and it is a superb one. I could look in the viewfinder and adjust the exposure compensation wheel  and see in real time what the image will turn out like without removing my eye from the viewfinder and looking at the rear screen.

When doing time or long exposures with a DSLR you have to cover the eyepiece or it will affect your images. There is no need to cover the eyepiece on a mirrorless.

Over the years I have used and owned a lot of Canon and Nikon glass and I have really never had any complaints with the sharpness of the images.  I do find that most of the Fuji glass has a “bite” to it for lack of a better word (looks a bit sharper).  As far as the Canon and Nikon bodies go I have never had any major issues almost all of them were totally reliable (my Nikon D200 had over 190,000 shutter actuations) on the original shutter and was still going strong.  I want to be very clear that I have nothing against these big manufacturers.  The Fuji system just fits my slower deliberate style of photography better.

Just because the Fuji system fits me does not mean everyone will like it. Some reviews I have read indicate that Fuji’s are not beginners cameras or are “Quirky” but I don’t find that the case at all. For anyone looking into upgrading or buying a DSLR camera I suggest you take a look at mirrorless along with DSLR’s. There are a lot of mirrorless brands such as Sony, Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic Lumix (Olympus and Panasonic are micro 4/3 sensors which are smaller than APS-C sensors) that offer considerable bang for the buck. Mirrorless technology is rapidly maturing and when image quality is compared to DSLR’s it is almost indistinguishable.

I’m sure in time I will find some disadvantages to mirrrorless also but the way I see it the advantages will far outweigh the disadvantages.

Here is a video clip that Patti K. sent me in a comment (Patti is one of our Main Contributors on Monochromia).  This is a pro that decided to go mirrorless and a lot of the reasons I switched were similar.  I hope you enjoy the clip and thank you to Patti for sending it – Why I moved to mirrorless

New York, Photography

You Asked For It – Color Temperature

Before we get into this discussion of what color temperature is I should explain the Kelvin scale.  Color temperature is rated in degrees k (k in lower case) on the Kelvin scale which was invented by Scottish scientist William Thompson (Lord Kelvin).  I am not going to get into a discussion on how William Thompson arrived at this scale but if you are interested you can do a Google search on him and there is plenty of information available on the subject.

The color temperature scale will apply to all color photography but white balance is only adjustable in post processing if you shoot RAW.

What is color temperature ?

Color Temp copy

The chart provided above indicates that 5500 degrees k is daylight.  Anything lower than 5500 degrees k will impart a yellow to red quality of light to your images and anything higher will impart a blue quality.  If you remember in previous lessons I stated that I take a lot of images around “Golden Hour”.  If you look at the Kelvin scale you will see that Sunrise/Sunset and Golden Hour are on the warm side of the scale and the quality of light is on the yellow to orange. The example below will verify how the quality of light (or color temperature) will correspond with the kelvin scale.


The above photo was taken right after sunrise and the color temperature is about 3300 degrees k.  If you look at the Kelvin scale at 3300 k you will see what color light influenced the above image.

I know the above explanation is fairly basic but I think it is easy enough to understand just by looking at the chart.

Why should I worry about color temperature because the camera seems to do a good job adjusting it on its own ?

The camera does a very good job of adjusting white balance on its own and I suggest you leave it Auto white balance.  I am suggesting that you shoot RAW rather than jpg files because if the camera is slightly off with its white balance choice at least you can correct it in post processing.

But my camera is always spot on and I never feel the need to adjust white balance Joe.

That might be true but you must be very lucky because sooner or later you will have to adjust white balance to achieve proper color.  I will show you a couple of examples below and while the white balance is only slightly off it makes a big difference when working with a color calibrated monitor (as I am) and if you print your photos.  Most people do not see white balance problems until they print their image and waste expensive photo paper.


In the above example this is a pretty straight forward image of some flowers and the camera did a pretty decent job with the white balance 4750 degrees k.  Upon a closer inspection you might notice the white petals take on a bluish green tint because of the light reflected off the background foliage.


In this example I corrected the white balance by raising the color temperature in Lightroom to 5100 degrees k which is more like the scene I saw with my eyes.  Even though the color temperature was only raised by 350 degrees k the white petals are more correctly displayed.


In this example I changed the color temperature to daylight in Lightroom 5500 degrees k but I think its a little too much to my liking so the second example looks more correct to me.  Some of you might not even notice these changes I am making because you are using a small screen or a notebook computer but I can assure you with a 27′ monitor like the size I am using the changes are plain as day.

Let me show you a different example.


This image was taken in Niagara Falls from the Canadian side and the image looks pretty good.  I didn’t like the bluish tint to the spray and the water coming over the falls.  This photo was taken on Auto white balance at 4950 degrees k.  Lets try to correct that water in the next image.


This is a little bit better the water is closer to the original color and the spray looks whiter.  The surroundings look like mid April in Ontario (when this image was taken) before the leaves started growing on the trees. This was corrected to daylight or 5500 degrees k in Lightroom.

If you shoot RAW files you should try going back into your photo archives and try to find some that might benefit from a small white balance adjustment.

Black and White, Black and White Photography, Joseph, Photography

You Asked For It – Time Exposures


In this post I would like to discuss a couple of tools a photo bug should have in their arsenal and also time exposures. First you should have a tripod, and I mean a good tripod not a cheap one. If you try to save money on a tripod you are going to end up screwing yourself. My way of checking to see if a tripod is good enough is putting the biggest lens on my camera and extending the tripod fully to its maximum height.  If there is even the slightest movement when I touch the camera I look for something more sturdy.  I also look for tripods that come up to eye level with the center column down.  The center column is a weak link on many tripods and I find it best not to use them extended.  Really good tripods and heads are expensive, and there is a reason for this.  They hold your camera steady and cheaper ones don’t.  I use a Manfrotto Carbon Fiber 055CXPRO3 with a Kirk BH-3 Ballhead and Arca-Swiss style quick release.  I am not suggesting everyone go out and buy a carbon fiber tripod because aluminum tripods will work just fine.  I bought a carbon fiber tripod because they are lighter than aluminum and I have a bad back.

The next thing you should have is a neutral density filter.  A lot of new cameras have a top shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second.  This is fine for stopping action but if you wanted to take a portrait of someone with an open aperture of lets say f/2.0 on a bright day it’s just not going to happen.  At 1/4000 and f/2.0 you will probably overexpose your image so a neutral density filter would come in handy for this type of situation.  A neutral density filter cuts the amount of light down coming through the lens and are available in different densities.

Another handy thing you should have is a remote release for your cameras shutter.  There are various kinds wireless, wired and old school cable releases and range in price from about 19 dollars to over 100.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because if you ever want to do night or low light photography you are probably not going to be able to hand hold your camera and will need a tripod and a remote release.  Also one of the things I want to talk about is time exposures today.  These are impossible to do without some basic tools.  Below is a photo of some of the tools I use for time exposures and excuse my photo it’s a quick shot from my iPhone.


Please note if you buy a tripod and head (yes you have to buy them separately) that is equipped with a Arca-Swiss style quick release you will have to buy a compatible plate for each of your cameras.  Also note that my cable release is of the $20 variety.  My Fuji cameras are equipped with a threaded shutter button just like the old 35mm cameras so I can use a standard cable release.  If I were shooting with my Nikon I would use a wired remote.  Please take note of the 9 stop neutral density (lets refer to them as ND filters) filter or what some photographers call “black glass”.  This type of filter is a must have for long time exposures. Actually I have a 10 stop B+W filter on order because a 9 stop is just not enough.

I like to do time exposures with my Fuji mirror less cameras for two reasons.  The first is they mirror less meaning there is no mirror or optical pentaprism so I don’t have to block the light coming in from the viewfinder eyepiece (if you have a optical pentaprism camera like most DSLR’s you have to prevent light from coming in the eyepiece of it will affect your exposure in ways that are not to pleasant).  All of the Fuji’s I own are equipped with electronic viewfinders and that eliminates the need to block extraneous light from entering the camera.  If I used my Nikon I would have to bring the eyepiece cover with me and its just one more step.  The second reason I like using the Fuji’s is the camera will auto focus with the 9 stop ND filter installed (I don’t have to remember to focus first set the camera to manual focus then install the filter).

Okay so enough with the equipment lets show some examples.

Time Exposures

In the first example I want to show you a standard exposure using a Fuji X-E2 with a Fuji 18mm f/2.0 lens without a ND filter.  The exposure was 1/15 @ f/16 ISO 100.


Now lets install the 9 stop ND filter and use an exposure of 28 seconds at f/16 and see what happens.


Look at what happened while the shutter was open for 28 seconds.  The waves and ripples in the water smoothed out and created a blurry dreamy type effect with the water.  Are you starting to see how useful a sturdy tripod is ?  A cheaper tripod would not have been able to hold the camera steady for 28 seconds.

Lets try this from another angle.  Also notice that this technique works best when there is a stationary object in the photo with the moving water.


This photo was taken at 1/20 @ f/16 without any ND filter.  Lets try the next shot with the ND filter.


This exposure was 28 seconds @ f/16 with a 9 stop ND filter installed.  I like doing time exposures in black and white because depending on the length of time the shutter is open you can get some fairly strange color shifts (nothing that can’t be fixed if shooting raw).  Below is a color photo of a 20 second time exposure @f/16.


These photos are just quick examples done for this article of what can be done with ND filters, tripods and a little imagination.   They were not intended to be of any artistic value.  Can you imagine a coastline with some big boulders sticking out of the water and a dramatic sky.  Put a ND filter on your lens and your camera on a tripod and turn that scene into a piece of fine art by smoothing out the crashing surf and the clouds moving in the sky.  All it takes is a little experimenting and a few photographic tools.

I almost forgot to mention that if you are in doubt about what exposure to use after installing a ND filter there is a handy little app for the iPhone called “Long Exposure” (I’m sure they have it for Android also) and its free.  All you have to do is enter the exposure information from your camera without the ND filter installed, tell the app how many stops the ND filter is and it will calculate the correct time for your shutter speed to be set at.

There are also other types of ND filters available like the Lee “Big Stopper” or the Formatt/Hi Tech 10 stop filters which come in rectangular sizes and you have to buy a special adaptor to attach them to your lens.  They are more expensive and would only really pay off if you were doing a lot of time exposures.

Joseph, Photography

You Asked For It – Focal Length And Perspective

Please note: Today will be the last of the daily posts.  The Visual Chronicle posting schedule will change to three times weekly instead of daily. I will post photos on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Fridays the weekly tutorial will continue. I would like to thank all of my followers and viewers that stopped by daily for the past two years and I would love to continue posting every day but truth be told between Monochromia and The Visual Chronicle it is just taking up too much of my time. It’s time to relax a bit after all I am retired 🙂

This is the fifth installment of the “You Asked For It” series and today I would like to discuss Focal Length And Perspective.  This post is going to be a little easier to understand than the previous two posts so all of you can breath a sigh of relief.

Before I begin I have to make one point which is how focal length applies to sensor size. For those of you with cameras equipped with a full frame sensor you could either skip this paragraph or take a short little nap, your choice. Most people who are either beginners or more advanced photo buffs will have a camera equipped with an APS-C size sensor. Nikon calls this DX format. Being a APS-C size sensor is smaller than a full frame sensor we have to keep in mind there is a focal length multiplication factor whether we are using prime (fixed) or zoom lenses. This multiplication factor is 1.5x which simply means whatever focal length you put on your camera the effective focal length will be 1.5x what is written on the lens. If you were using an 18mm lens the effective focal length will be 27mm (18 x 1.5 = 27). If you were using a 50mm lens the effective focal length will be 75mm (50 x 1.5 = 75). Easy peasy right ?

Focal Length

Now that we have that out of the way I would like to discuss how and why you would need different focal lengths. If you are a casual shooter you probably will never need anything more than the lens that came with your camera which could be 18-55mm, 18-105mm or even 18-135mm. You are probably just going to use the camera for family snapshots or birthday parties. But for those of us who get bitten by the “bug” you will probably be adding some lenses to your camera bag.

If you are shooting with a APS-C sensor here are a few suggestions:

  • 14mm which would be an effective focal length of 21mm (you will absolutely hate a wide angle lens until you learn how to properly use one)
  • 35mm which would be an effective focal length of 52.5mm (this is considered to be a normal field of view similar to what our eyes see)
  • 60mm which would be an effective focal length of 90mm (this could also be a macro lens which doubles as a great portrait lens)
  • 80-200 zoom lens which would be an effective focal length of 120-300mm

Now that I have all of you twitching about all of the money you will have to spend let me explain.  Different focal lengths change not only magnification and field of view but also perspective.  Lets deal with field of view first.


As you can see the above chart describes how focal length relates to field of view.  If we look at the 135mm lens we will see that in addition to having higher magnification than a normal 50mm lens it also has a narrower field of view which is 18 degrees versus 43 degrees on the 50mm.

So what does all this mean Joe ?

It simply means if you need a chisel don’t use a screwdriver 🙂  In other words there is a reason manufacturers make all these different lenses, so you can choose the correct tool for the job.  If you wanted to take some photos of your recently remodeled kitchen you would not use a 50mm lens, you would use a 14 or an 18mm lens to have a wider field of view this way you can get the whole kitchen in the photo.  A different example would be if you were a bird watcher and you went birding with your friend.  You show up with a 50mm lens and after your friend stops rolling on the ground and laughing he says to you what do you expect to do with that, I’m shooting with a 500mm lens.  You would want a longer focal length for more magnification, you would have to get too close to the birds with a tiny 50mm lens.

Make sense ?  I thought so 🙂


Now I would like to show you how focal length changes perspective.  I will show you three different photos of the same scene taken with different focal lengths.


Oh boy Joe a photo of a dog crap bag dispenser, I was wondering when you were going to post one of these, LOL. I really don’t want you to concentrate on the dispenser, but I do want you to notice how the background relates to the dispenser. This photo was taken with an 18mm lens. What effective focal length would that be on my APS-C sensor camera ? Thats correct Laurie 27mm 🙂  All three of the photos were taken at an aperture of f/11.  Notice on this first photo how the background has depth or separation from the dispenser.  You can see the trees in the distance along with the walkway and a home.  Now lets try the same scene with a 35mm lens below.


If we don’t pay any attention that I shook the camera a little on this shot you will notice that there is not as much depth to the scene.  This also was taken at f/11 with a 35mm lens which would be what effective focal length on my APS-C sensor camera ?  Thats correct Pauline 52.5mm 🙂  You can start to see that even though the magnification is higher on the 35mm lens than the 18mm lens the perspective is also changing because of the compression of the background in relation to the dispenser.  Did you notice anything else ?  The field of view got narrower, we see less of the scene than with the 18mm lens. Now lets try the same scene with a 200mm lens below.


OK now we can clearly see a huge difference on the perspective on this shot.  Notice how close the tree looks in relation to the dispenser.  The 200mm lens flattened out and compressed the perspective on this shot.  By the way what is the effective focal length of this lens on my APS-C sensor camera ?  Absolutely correct Elina 300mm.  Notice how narrow the field of view got with this lens.

The more you get out and shoot with your camera and experiment with different lenses or zoom lenses the faster you will understand when to use a particular focal length and how you want the perspective to look.

Next week I will discuss why you should shoot (RAW) don’t get upset (or be disappointed) you will still be fully clothed, vs. .jpg 


You Asked For It – Shutter Speed

This is the third installment of the “You Asked For It” series and we will discuss Shutter Speed today. Shutter speed is one method which controls the amount of light that reaches the film or digital sensor.

Oh no, their’s more than one method ?

Yup ! Last week we discussed aperture or lens opening which is the other way we control the amount of light reaching the film or digital sensor.

OK, now you’re full of it Joe, you wrote a whole damn article on depth of field and you had me believing that ?

Aperture does control depth of field, but it also is another way to control the amount light that reaches the film or digital sensor.

Remember last week when I told you I didn’t want you to worry about how aperture is related to shutter speed and formulas ?

Guess what, I lied 🙂

We have to understand the relationship between aperture and shutter speed to be able to control light in manual mode.


The above chart will show in graphic form how aperture and shutter speed are linked.   You will see as the aperture is increased (lower number) shutter speed must increase.  Think of this graphic as a child’s SeeSaw with the pivot point in the middle indicating the perfect exposure and it will become clear how aperture and shutter speed are linked.

Why is this ?

When we increase the aperture or open the lens (lower number) we are letting more light into the camera.  By doing this we have to also increase the shutter speed so the shutter stays open for a shorter time or else we would overexpose the image.  If we were to use the opposite example by closing the aperture (higher number) we  are letting less light into the camera so the shutter speed must be decreased so the shutter speed would stay open for a longer period of time to compensate for the lower light.

To prove the above chart is accurate i would like you to take your camera and put it into Aperture Priority mode (remember when we are in aperture priority mode we are controlling the aperture and the camera is selecting the shutter speed).  Point the camera towards a brightly illuminated window or go outside if you prefer and change the aperture from its lowest number to the highest number.   I want you to take notice to how the shutter speed is reacting as you change the aperture.  Open the aperture and the shutter speed gets higher, close the aperture the shutter speed gets lower.

OK Joe but I thought this lesson was about shutter speed, and I’m still playing around with the aperture ?

Good point, now lets put the camera into Shutter Priority mode.

Can anyone tell me what happens when we put the camera into this mode ?  A show of hands please !

Yes you in the back with your hand raised really high Pauline, you are absolutely correct we are choosing the shutter speed and the camera is automatically selecting the corresponding aperture to achieve the correct exposure.

Why on earth do I need to know this ?

Lets say you wanted to take a photo of a fast moving object such as a train or an automobile. You really would not be too concerned with depth of field you would be more concerned with how to capture this object so it is clear.  To do this you would have to freeze motion.

How do we freeze motion and am I going to be cold during this lesson ?

I am talking about freezing motion by using a higher shutter speed not by temperature 🙂   By choosing a higher shutter speed (higher number) we are keeping the shutter open for a shorter period of time.

Whaaat ?

If you notice shutter speeds are expressed in fraction form 1/8000, 1/4000, 1/2000,1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125 and so on.

Do you notice a pattern with these numbers ?

Very good Elina, they all look like they are exactly half of each other.  For example 1/1000th of a second is half of 1/500th of a second.  We can also state this as 1/1000th of a second will let exactly half the amount of light into the camera as 1/500th of a second, or expressed in photography terms 1 stop faster.  If we reversed this 1/500th of a second will let exactly twice the amount of light into the camera as 1/1000th of a second or 1 stop slower.

You might have noticed in the previous lesson on Depth Of Field the lens opening or aperture is expressed in numbers also.  Lets show that chart again.


Do you notice any similarities with the numbers on this chart ?  f/4 looks like it’s letting half the light into the camera as f/2.8, and f/5.6 looks like its letting half the light into the camera as f/4. These are called f stops and f/4 is one stop slower than f/2.8 or we could also say that f/4 is letting exactly half the light into the camera as f/2.8.  As we look at the chart we will see that as we close the aperture or increase the number (higher) each f stop or f number lets in exactly half the light as the previous f stop.

OK so now that we know the camera aperture and shutter speeds are calibrated in stops we could make sense of why aperture and shutter speed are linked.

Lets say we point the camera at an any object and the meter on the camera is reading 1/125th of a second at f/8 for proper exposure.  Now lets say that object is a person and we want to isolate this person from the background by using shallow depth of field.  Well the camera is reading  f/8 so I am not going to be able to isolate the background with that aperture so I want to open the aperture to f/2.8 to get the pleasing background.  I cannot just change the aperture and expect not to compensate with the shutter speed and still achieve proper exposure so lets count backwards.  As I change from f/8 to f/5.6 (one stop increase) I am letting twice the amount of light into the camera so I would have to increase the shutter speed by one stop from 1/125th of a second to 1/250th of a second (one stop decrease).

Why are you saying decrease when the shutter speed is getting higher ?

Because as we increase the shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/250 we are letting half the light into the camera to compensate for the increase of twice the light by opening up the aperture from f/8 to f/5.6.  Starting to make sense ?

Lets continue to count backwards because I want to open the aperture to f/2.8 to photograph this person.   Now lets open the lens to f/4 or 1 more stop so once again we are letting twice the amount of light in so we have to increase the shutter speed to 1/500th to compensate or 1 stop less.  Lets continue and change the aperture to f/2.8 or 1 stop more and once again we are letting twice the amount of light into the camera so we compensate by increasing the shutter speed to 1/1000th one stop less.   We now have the aperture where we want to have a pleasing background and we are still getting correct exposure.  In other words 1/125th @ f/8 is the same exposure as 1/1000th @ f/2.8 all we did was adjust the camera from its suggested exposure to properly fit the situation of taking a photo of someone where we wanted to have a pleasing out of focus background.  I showed you an example of a camera in manual mode, if your camera was in aperture priority mode the shutter speed would change automatically as you changed the aperture.

Shutter Speed

First I am going to show you the difference between a photo taken with a slow shutter speed and then I will show you one taken at a faster speed. The photo on the top was taken with a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. This was done intentionally to convey speed or motion. This technique is known as motion blur and even though the bicyclists and car are really not moving that fast using a slow shutter speed exaggerates their motion.


This performer was in the Quincy Market Square in Boston and was using a giant Pogo stick. He was about 5 to 6 feet in mid-air as the interested crowd looks on.  Notice how using a shutter speed of only 1/200th of a second almost totally froze him in mid-air.  If I would have had the light to increase the shutter speed to lets say 1/500th of a second this photo would have been totally sharp. This is known as freezing motion.



As you become more familiar with aperture and shutter speed and practice using different settings you will begin to understand why some of you photos are turning out great and why some not so great.  When you understand these concepts you will be able to identify settings or mistakes you might of relied on the camera to take care of before and correct them on the spot so you don’t miss the shot.  I know this lesson was a little more difficult than the previous ones but as we progress the lessons will get more complex.  I am trying to make these lessons as easy to understand as I can but if you do not understand something please email me through the contact me page.

Next Friday – Metering and Exposure


You Asked For It – Depth Of Field

This is the second post in the “You Asked For It” series and today I will discuss depth of field.  What is depth of field and why should I care ?

Depth of field is the ability to isolate your subject from the background – shallow depth of field

Depth of field is also the ability to have everything from close to infinity in sharp focus – greater depth of field.

Whaaat ?  How could the definition of depth of field mean two different things ?

Before I explain here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.   The smaller the sensor on your camera the more difficult it will be to achieve shallow depth of field.  This simply means if you have a compact point and shoot camera it will be very hard to take photographs with a shallow depth of field.  The lenses on these cameras are simply not fast enough (the aperture does not open wide enough).  There are of course some exceptions one being the Fujifilm X10 and X20 cameras which have very fast zoom lenses.

2.    The wider the field of view (or the shorter the focal length) of the lens the more difficult it will be to achieve shallow depth of field (wide angle).  The narrower the field of view (or the longer the focal length) the easier it will be to achieve shallow depth of field (telephoto).

3.    Most kit lenses on DSLR cameras are not fast enough to achieve shallow depth of field.   Now before everyone reading gets mad at me let me explain.  Most of the time when you go out and buy a camera kit you are paying 80% of the price for the camera body and 20% for the lens.  What does this mean ?  The manufacturer is basically throwing in the lens to sweeten the deal and keep the price of the camera reasonable.  Most of these kit cameras sold on the market today are also equipped with APS-C size sensors which are smaller than full frame sensors on professional cameras.  There is nothing wrong with APS-C size sensors and they could be used for professional looking results but remember what I mentioned in the first comment (the smaller the sensor the more difficult it will be to achieve shallow depth of field).

Anyway lets get back to the lenses.  Most kit lenses supplied with cameras will be 18-55mm f/3.5-f/5.6 which simply means at 18mm the widest aperture you can use will be f/3.5 and it will slowly decrease as you zoom out to 55mm where the widest aperture available will be f/5.6.   These are called sliding aperture lenses and are usually used on consumer level cameras.   Professional level lenses will usually be fixed aperture lenses such as a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.   On this type of lens the widest aperture available will be f/2.8 throughout the entire zoom range which is a big difference from a kit lens.  These lenses also carry a much higher price because they are more expensive to manufacture.  There are some aftermarket fixed aperture zoom lenses available at reasonable prices such as the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 which also happens to be an excellent lens.

4.    Full frame sensor cameras will be the easiest cameras to achieve shallow depth of field with.  What is a full frame sensor ?  The original format for a SLR camera (single lens reflex) was 35mm and that described the size of film it used which was approximately 36 x 24mm in size.   When we say full frame DSLR (digital single lens reflex) we are referring to the size of the digital sensor which is approximately the size of a frame of 35mm film.


As you can see in the diagram above your lens opening or aperture varies depending on what is required for correct exposure.  The lens opening works in conjunction with the shutter speed on the camera.   When your camera is in Program mode the camera decides the correct exposure by selecting a combination of shutter speed and aperture.  In Program mode your camera decides everything so you have no control.  The first thing you should do to be able to control depth of field is put your camera in Aperture Priority mode.  By setting your camera to Aperture Priority mode you will control the lens opening or aperture and the camera will select the correct shutter speed to obtain correct exposure.  Notice we are taking baby steps here and still working with a safety net.  Your camera is still making decisions just not all of them.   Now you will be able to control depth of field by selecting the lens opening of your choice.  The first test I want you to do is to take a photo of a picket fence with a fully open aperture, then take the same photo with the aperture fully closed.  Take the two photos from the position of standing right next to the fence and the pickets are moving away from you.

Go ahead I’ll wait I’m retired 🙂   Now I want you to upload these images to your computer and compare them and see if you can tell the difference in depth of field.  Which one was taken with the wide open aperture and which was taken with the fully closed aperture.  Are you starting to understand the concept of depth of field ?

Shallow Depth Of Field

So why do I care about shallow depth of field I want all my photos to be totally sharp ?

OK if thats what you want you should close this article and move onto the next photo in the WordPress reader.   But if I took the time to read this far into this post I would stick it out until the end.  Sometimes we want to separate our subject from the background such as in a portrait.  If you are taking a photo of someone standing in front of a Rhododendron that was blooming you would not want the flowers to be tack sharp because that would detract from your subject.  You want your subject to be tack sharp and the flowers to be less sharp or blurred.  That would be an example of shallow depth of field.

How do we achieve this ?

By using a wide lens opening or a lower number (f-stop or aperture).  A typical outdoor portrait with a pleasing background (soft focus) should be taken at an aperture of less than f/3.5 or a lower number.  This is where the problem of the kit lens comes in because most of them do not go lower that f/3.5.

Everyone who is serious about photography should purchase a 50mm f/1.8 lens or if your budget is a little more generous an f/1.4.  Most manufacturers offer a 50mm f/1.8 lens for under $200 and the optics on a lenses such as these will probably be loads better than a kit lens.

Yes but if I buy a 50mm I will lose the zoom function ?

Well my answer to that would be use your feet to zoom, move back from the subject if you want a wider view or closer if you want a tighter view.  Most people that buy 50mm lenses tend to use them a lot more than their kit zooms because of the increase in picture quality.

The photo below illustrates shallow depth of field where the fingertips of the gloves are in sharp focus but the background quicky falls off into a blur (a large lens opening or lower aperture number).  This photo was taken with a Fuji X100s and the lens opening was f/2.0 the widest available on that camera.


Greater Depth Of Field

So far all I have been talking about is shallow depth of field.  So why would I want greater depth of field ?  If you are a person who likes to photograph landscapes you would want everything from near to far to be in focus.  How would you do this ?  By using a smaller lens opening or a higher number (f-stop or aperture).  You can also achieve this effect by using a wider angle lens which inherently have greater depth of field.

The photo below illustrates greater depth of field where everything from the rocks in the foreground to the bridge all the way in the distance is in sharp focus (a small lens opening or higher aperture number).  This photo was taken with a Nikon D7000 and Tokina 12-24mm lens at f/8.0 which is about the middle of the aperture range for that lens.  Be careful when using  f-numbers or apertures smaller than f/8 or f/11 because an effect called diffraction will degrade your image quality (a whole different subject).


Now for all of you with kit lenses out there whom I just alienated I apologize.  There is still hope, just remember a wider lens opening will give you a shallow depth of field (a lower f-number), and a smaller lens opening (higher f-number) will give you a greater depth of field.    Go out and experiment with your camera and kit lens.

The reason I told you to put your camera in  aperture priority mode earlier in this post is because I didn’t fully explain aperture and how it relates to shutter speed.  I would rather you not get confused with formulas when you are still trying to grasp the concept of depth of field.

Don’t worry by the end of these  lessons we will take your safety net away and turn you loose with your cameras in fully manual mode 🙂

The quicker you take your camera out of program mode or fully automatic mode the quicker you will take your images to the next level.

Next Friday we will explain – Shutter Speed

Black and White, Black and White Photography, Joseph, New York, Photography

You Asked For It – Composition


I had recently been asked to participate in a post called “Blog hop around the world”.   In this post I had to answer four questions about my craft or passion which is photography.  I was totally blown away with the comments and positive response I had received for this post and surprised how many people were encouraging me to write more.  I have never really been one to write much with my posts but rather to post photographs with brief descriptions.  People actually were interested in what was going on inside my head while I was taking photos (which is a very scary thought in itself).

So here is the first post in a series of called “You Asked For It”.  The inner workings of an old retired guys mind who happens to love the art of photography 🙂

We will start the series off with the subject of – Composition.  Why are we starting off with composition ?  Because thats what I feel like talking about today (you asked me to write, but I never said I would be a good teacher, LOL).  Actually most cameras today have advanced metering systems and lots of automatic features so achieving proper exposure with them is usually pretty easy.

What are the building blocks or elements that make a good photograph ?

1.  Proper exposure – This is a given, proper exposure is essential for a good photograph.  Lets admit it we have all seen a photograph from a friend or relative that is so badly exposed you can hardly recognize the subject matter.

2.  Subject matter – This is kind of subjective because whats interesting to one person might be pretty boring to someone else. Lets all agree for the moment that we are talking about subject matter thats interesting to everyone.

3.  Composition – This one is a biggie in my opinion, you might be able to get away with poor composition but then I would call it a snapshot not a photograph. Composition is what makes your image appealing.  Have you ever seen an image that you just can’t stop looking at ?   The reason most likely is the photographer nailed all three of the above elements.

The Rule Of Thirds

How many of you have heard of “The rule of thirds” ?  Lets see a show of hands.  Okay you can put your hands down now I can’t see them anyway.

The rule of thirds states you should divide your scene into thirds in both the horizontal and vertical planes so the easiest way to do this is with gridlines. Most modern DSLR’s have a feature that can be turned on via the menu system called gridlines. My Nikon D610, Fujifilm X-T1 and Fujifilm X-E2 all have this feature. If your camera does not have this feature you will just have to imagine a blank Tic-Tac-Toe board or a total of nine squares.


The above photo is typically what I see through my viewfinder when the gridlines are turned on.  I usually leave the gridlines on all the time so I am not fumbling through the menus when I want to grab a shot.  The whole premise of the rule of thirds is to place one of the points of interest in your photo where any one or more of the lines of the grid intersect each other.   Before you ask you will not get extra points if you intersect all four locations, thats not the objective here. As you can see in the above example the hull of the ship is intersecting the bottom horizontal line and the vertical line to the right.  You can also see that the top horizontal line and the vertical line to the right is almost intersecting where one of the masts is placed.  What would make this image perfect composition would be if the horizon was a little lower so it would intersect the bottom horizontal line and the left vertical line.  After looking at the photo I decided to raise the horizon to its present place in the cropping process because I liked the way it looked better.   The rule of thirds should be used as a guideline for composition.   It is not cast in stone where you have to use it every time but in the majority of cases when used will make for better composition in your images.


Here is the same image with the gridlines removed.  I also used a wide angle 24mm lens on a full frame sensor camera to accentuate the ship a little more (I was a lot closer to this ship than you would think from the photo).

I hope I have explained this subject so most of you will walk away with an “AhHa” moment but if I was not clear please contact me through the “Contact Me” menu on the home page of this blog and explain to me which part is not clear and I will contact you through email to try and answer your questions.

Next Friday’s topic – Depth of field