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

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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.

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Joseph, New York, Photography

You Asked For It – Compact Cameras

Today I would like to talk about compact cameras for two reasons.  The first reason being I had minor foot surgery on Tuesday and I still find it a little hard to get around with shoes on so I am being a little lazy in not having to go out and take new photos.   The second reason for writing this post is practically everyone who has a big DSLR camera usually also has a compact camera they take with them when they go on vacation or just want to travel light. All of these photos were taken about one month ago, with a Sony RX100 Mk. 1 compact camera on my walk back to Penn Station from 69th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan.  I originally went to Manhattan to pick up a Macro lens for my Fuji X-T1 but then I got the idea to ask Patti K. (a fellow contributor on Monochromia) to meet me at an Upper East Side Starbucks for a cup of coffee and to shoot the breeze. Meeting Patti was truly the highlight of my day and my friend and I talked with her for about 1 1/2 hours but thats a story for another post.

Most of you are probably saying why do I need a compact camera when I have my iPhone or smartphone with me all of the time and that is a perfectly legitimate question.  Some people like Louise Whiting or Patti K. are accustomed to taking photos with their iPhones and, I have to admit they are extremely creative with them (for those of you who don’t know these women check out Monochromia our black and white only blog, they are two of our main contributors). As for myself shooting with a phone is sort of a hit and miss situation sometimes I get great shots and sometimes they really suck 🙂  Maybe this is because I don’t shoot enough with my iPhone or it could also be because I have big sausage like fingers and I am always afraid of dropping it.

For those of you that have success shooting with your phone I tip my hat to you and all I can say is “whatever works for you”.

For those of you that are familiar with my work and what cameras I enjoy using it should come as no surprise that I love Fujifilm cameras.  I previously shot with a Fuji X20 camera but when I purchased my X100s I sold my X20 because I couldn’t see myself using it that much with the X100s.  That was probably a mistake on my part because I really loved that camera and the images it was capable of producing.  Since then I sold my X100s along with my X-Pro 1 and X-E2 and I have settled on using two cameras with the same control layout.  Those cameras are a pair of Fuji X-T1’s and while I love them sometimes I just feel like being able to throw a camera in my pocket to go into Manhattan traveling as light as I can.

Being I am a cheapskate I stumbled across a Sony RX100 Mk. 1 on Craigslist (classifieds) and bought it for around $200 with a handful of accessories.  I usually am not a fan of cameras without any sort of viewfinder because I don’t like holding cameras at an arm length away from me.  It makes for an inherently unstable camera holding position. A camera with a viewfinder will add another point of contact such as your forehead that will help stabilize it.  On the plus side the Sony viewscreen seems to be bright enough in to use in bright sunlight.

Here is an image of the Sony RX100 that I purchased

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I photographed the camera with a ball point pen in front of it to illustrate how small the camera actually is.  Its small but fairly heavy for its size being made from die cast magnesium.

If money was no object I probably would have bought another Fuji, this time the X30.  I might even still do that  in the near future.  I really love the fact that now the Fuji X30 has an electronic viewfinder and very similar controls to the other Fuji’s.  The sensor is smaller on the Fuji than the Sony but I rarely shoot above ISO 1600 so I never had any issues with high ISO problems when I owned the X20

I love using prime lenses on my X-T1’s but when it comes to traveling light I would rather have a zoom lens.  Thats one of the reasons I bought this Sony (besides being a cheapskate) because it has a very sharp Carl Zeiss branded lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 at its widest setting but quickly changes to f/4.9 an the telephoto range.  The Fuji X30 has a maximum aperture if f/2.0 at its widest setting and it only slows to f/2.8 at its longest telephoto setting.

Okay Joe I’m getting tired of hearing about your cameras whats the point of this article ?

The point of this article is this – what exactly is important when purchasing a compact camera to supplement your DSLR.  Image quality would be number one on my list followed by the ability to shoot in RAW as well as jpg.  Usually compact cameras have a lot of items buried in the menus, so controls and function buttons are also important.  It’s no fun searching for a setting in the menus when trying to shoot a rapidly changing subject or scene. Lens speed is also important.  Do you recall me saying I rarely shot above ISO 1600 with my Fuji X20 ?  That was because it had a very fast lens for a compact camera.  Another great feature to have is WiFi built in to your compact camera as well as GPS.  The ability to upload your images instantly to social media is important to most people.  You can purchase SD cards such as “Eye Fi” to instantly transmit photos to your phone or tablet but I personally would rather have this feature built in to the camera.

Built in GPS is also great because if you are on vacation and want to document where you visited with a map view you will need some way to tag each one of your photos with GPS coordinates.  Most programs like Apple Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom and I believe Photoshop Elements provide a way to compose a photobook within the program and also show a map view of where you took each image.  The Fuji X30 along with the X-T1 and X-E2 have a feature called Geo Tagging and this works in conjunction with a free app you download for your smartphone and the camera will access your smartphones GPS feature to tag your images (pretty cool solution).

Image quality on compact cameras can be quite pleasing especially when equipped with a fast aperture lens so you can achieve shallow depth of field.

Future

A compact camera is excellent for street fairs or taking photos at a farmers market.

Baskets

There are so many vendors with different products for sale at street fairs with a wide variety of colors and textures to photograph.

Hats

Fresh roasted corn is always a favorite at street fairs and my friend Carmela just had to have one.

Rcorn

Compact cameras are also great for street photography because you look more like a tourist rather than a photographer.

SmartLook

The tiny inconspicuous nature of a compact camera makes them less threatening to subjects.  I was able to take a shot of this gentleman watching his girlfriend shop without him even knowing.

Busstop

Having a compact camera to suppliment a big DSLR is handy.  If you are a blogger,  cameras in the 12 to 16 megapixel are ideal especially if the camera is equipped with WiFi to make mobile uploads effortless.  Some people also enjoy compact cameras more than a full size DSLR. There is something to be said for being able to travel very light and be inconspicuous.

Looking for some of the features I mentioned above will most certainly make your experience using a compact camera more enjoyable.  I personally don’t do much social media but the WiFi feature on my cameras comes in really handy for me simply because I immediately get to see my images on a larger screen (my phone) than the cameras LCD screen.  Some of the features might seem like overkill in a camera but when you start to think of your camera as a tool rather than just for snapshots it will start to seem like a Swiss Army Knife with a feature or tool for everything.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Joseph, Photography

You Asked For It: Photo Editing Programs

Today I would like to discuss some of the various photo editing programs available to post process your images.  I will also give you my views on Macintosh versus Microsoft Windows systems.  Please note I am not advocating or endorsing one type of computer OS over the other I am merely stating my experience with both.  Todays post was actually inspired by a question from Gale in Florida about post processing.

Why I Prefer Macintosh

Lets discuss computers first because I want to be brief on this subject. I personally prefer the Macintosh OS over Windows (and this is coming from a person who owned a computer business for ten years building generic computers running Microsoft Windows). Like I said I am not endorsing I am merely stating my preferences. I find the Macintosh systems seem to require less system resources than Windows systems while running the same programs.

Huh ?

Okay let me give you an example. I sometimes will edit images on my Macbook Air computer which only has 4 GB of RAM without issue. Of course I would prefer to edit images on my Mac Mini with 16 GB of ram and a big screen but sometimes I would rather just sit on the couch with my wife and edit images on my Macbook. If I were using a Windows based system with the same processing power and 4 GB of RAM, running Adobe Lightroom 5 would be frustrating for me. In my experience the Mac programs seem to load faster than the Windows counterparts and take up less hard drive space. Some of you might say RAM is pretty cheap these days so why not just add some memory and use the Windows systems. That’s wonderful if Windows is your preference but when comparing apples to apples (no pun intended) the Mac system will load programs faster with the same processing power and memory, and I am confident saying that. The other thing I prefer about the Mac system is all of the Apple software such as word processing, spreadsheet and presentation is free and will import Microsoft Word or Excel files. The OS (operating system) upgrades are also free so I don’t have to spend money when the next generation of software is available. If I wanted to start processing RAW files immediately iPhoto is already on the Mac so if I didn’t have the extra cash to spend on Adobe Lightroom at the time I could still shoot RAW images with my camera and post process them. These are some of the reasons the Mac system is a better fit for me. As I stated previously I am not endorsing or suggesting one system over another, I am just stating which works better for me, and why I prefer it.

Image Editing Programs

Okay so lets get to the meat of the post, image editing programs now that I started the controversy about computers above.

When you buy a camera most of the time it will come with a CD that has their own brand of image editing software. These proprietary programs are used if you shoot RAW images because for some stupid reason every camera manufacturer has their own RAW files. With Nikon the files have an .NEF extension, with Olympus they end in .ORF.

Why these files are different is beyond my scope of understanding but it would just make a little more sense to me if all these manufacturers would get together and standardize a file format for RAW images. They did it with .JPG images so why not RAW.

Adobe Lightroom is in my opinion the standard for post processing images for people like me (advanced amateur).   You can import just about any file format including RAW images into one program.

But Joe why would I spend money on Lightroom if my camera already came with a software CD ?

Thats a really good question Joe, I’m glad I asked me. Lets use me as an example.

I am a long time Nikon user as most of you already know. Lets say I was a loyal user of the software provided by Nikon to post process images. I took the time to learn all aspects of the Nikon software and I am so familiar with it I can process images with my eyes closed (which would be a pretty neat trick).

Now I decide to buy a Fuji camera because I heard great things about their image quality. I’m very excited when I get my new Fuji home and while I am waiting for the battery to charge I decide to load the software that came with my new camera. I eagerly await for the software to finish installing and as soon as it finished I quickly open the program.

What the hell is this ?

This is nothing like the Nikon software I am accustomed to. Oh crap this is totally different and now I have to learn a whole different program to process my Fuji RAW files.

This is the exact reason you invest in Adobe Lightroom. You take the time to learn Lightroom and it will import any brand of camera RAW files along with .JPG’s of course. You learn one program and use it for all of your post processing needs. By taking the time to learn Lightroom you streamline your post processing immediately.

Another great feature of Lightroom is Plug Ins. Practically every manufacturer of image editing programs provides Plug Ins for Lightroom. For example I use NIK software’s Silver EFEX Pro sometimes to process my black and white images. They provide a Plug In so I can run Silver EFEX from within Lightroom. I just drop down one of the menus in Lightroom choose to edit my image in Silver EFEX and when I am done it automatically exports my image to Lightroom and puts me right back to where I was before I dropped down the menu. I actually use the complete suite of NIK software programs but since Google purchased the company I find myself using a suite of programs fro onOne software called Perfect Photo Suite (which by the way is a free download). When onOne comes out with new versions of their image editing suites the make the previous versions available for free. I would imagine they do this in hopes you will love their software and upgrade to their latest version, which is not free. To me the current version is well worth the $89 they charge for it. The NIK software suite is also very nice but I just find myself using the onOne software more recently.

There are free programs available such as Google Picasa that you can use for post processing your images which is fine. I just don’t think anything can match the power and versatility of Adobe Lightroom and the Plug Ins capability is just an added bonus to me.

So I hope all of you found this post of some use and I hope I cleared up some questions that you had Gale.

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Photography

You Asked For It – Macro Photography

In this post I would like to discuss Macro photography so a brief explanation is in order to explain what exactly “Macro” is.  Macro photography is different than close up photography.  I am sure most of you have seen the do it all lenses advertised and some of you might even own one.  You know the lenses I am talking about – 24-105mm with macro or 80-200mm with macro.  Well here is a little news flash, these are multi-purpose zoom lenses with a close focusing function.  They are not Macro lenses.  True macro lenses are fixed focal lengths 60mm, 90mm, 105mm, 180mm, 200mm and so on.  True Macro lenses (or as Nikon labels them Micro) have the ability to reproduce subjects at a 1:1 ratio.

Oh crap Joe you’re not going to start with this math again !

No don’t worry what I mean by 1:1 ratio is that Macro lenses can reproduce something life-size, if it is 1 inch square it will reproduce a life-size 1 inch square on your image with no cropping or enlargement.  This is called reproduction ratio and it is listed in the specifications on all Macro lenses.  If you look in the specifications on the multi purpose lenses with so called “Macro” mode you will most likely see something like 1:2, 1:4 or even 1:5 and that is why these lenses should be marketed as multi purpose zooms with close up function, not macro.

I have been using a Tamron 90mm macro lens (Nikon mount) for about a year now but if I had money to burn I would buy a macro lens in the 180mm to 200mm focal length.  I happened to run across this Tamron 90mm for a great price used so I purchased it.  The lens is shown below and happens to be spectacularly sharp, as all macro lenses should be.

Macro1

But Joe if you already have a macro lens why would you buy a longer focal length macro lens ?

There is a simple reason, to increase my working distance from the subject.  I use a full frame sensor camera so the 90mm Tamron is actually 90mm.  Remember way back when we were discussing depth of field and sensor size when I explained if you use anything except a full frame sensor there is a focal length multiplication factor ?  Well lets say I was using an APS-C sensor camera like the Nikon D7000.  Then my Tamron 90mm would actually work out to be a 135mm (90mm x 1.5 = 135).

The closer you are to your subject the more likely it is that you are going to block the light or at least shade the light.  With a longer lens you have a greater working distance and you don’t run into the problem above.  The working distance on the Tamron I am using is about 3.5 inches at 1:1 reproduction. If I was using a 200mm macro lens the working distance might increase to as much as 11 inches. You also have a greater chance of not disturbing insects or butterflies on flowers if you are further away from them (not to mention getting stung by a bee).

So lets see a few examples.  Today was a little chilly outside so I gathered up some leaves and brought them into the house.  In the first example I will just show you a natural light image straight out of the camera.

Macro2

This image is a 1:1 reproduction which means the leaf was the same exact size as in the image. This image was taken at an aperture of f/32 and you would expect the depth of field to be very deep or sharp. If you look at the photo closely you will see that the veins of the oak leaf are in sharp focus but the water droplets are really not tack sharp. This particular lens goes down to f/64 but it really would not make too much difference if I used that aperture because when working with macro lenses there is no such thing as great depth of field. The difference in height between the veins and these water droplets cannot be more than 1/128 of an inch yet at f/32 the depth of field is still shallow.

Okay so lets get back to the lesson, I really don’t like the flat natural light on this image so lets try some flash in the next image.

Macro3

This is a little better but the lighting is still flat because the flash was shot from a head on position (you all know me by now I’m a texture freak).  Lets try a little side lighting to bring out the texture of this subject.

Macro4

Do you see how much of an effect lighting can produce.  On this photo the Flash was placed at the 9:00 position just to the left of the image.  Lets try  another light placement.

Macro5

This image was taken with the flash at the 12:00 position and it also provided a little backlighting as evidenced by the white area in the middle right where the white background is showing through the leaf.  Although all of these images are very different they were all taken at the same aperture f/32. It is the lighting that is making them look different.  I finally settled on the image below.

Macro6

This image to my eyes was the closest to the original with only a boost in the texture which was achieved by the flash in the 7:00 position and being hand held slightly elevated.

Now some of you are probably asking yourselves why didn’t he just use the on camera flash. The reason I used an external flash is because if I used the on camera flash I would have introduced a shadow from the macro lens into the image because of the close proximity of the on camera flash and lens. I used a Nikon SB-700 Speedlight in wireless mode.

I suppose after telling you I used the SB-700 Speedlight in wireless mode I should explain. Most of the Nikon Speedlights have a mode called “Remote” and most of the Nikon cameras except for the less expensive ones have a mode called “Commander” mode. The Nikon D70, D70s, D80, D90, D200, D300, D7000, D700, D600, D610 and D800/D810 all have commander mode available in the camera. This simply means you can set your camera to control external Nikon Speedlights wirelessly with full TTL control “Through The Lens” exposure control. I’m sure Canon and other manufacturers have the same thing but you will have to check your instruction manuals to see what they call it.

Nikon also calls their system “Creative Lighting System” and here is where you find it in your menu system. I am using a Nikon D610 as an example but the menus are very similar in the cameras mentioned above.

The first menu will be shown in the Custom setting menu and it will be listed under Bracketing/flash select this.

Macro7

The next menu will be Flash control for built in flash.  The default setting is TTL, you will have to change it to Commander mode.

Macro8

The next menu is a sub-menu of Flash control for built in flash and notice I turned the built in flash OFF as indicated by the two dashes.  Being I only used one external Speedlight I am only concerned with Group A which I set to TTL with No exposure compensation and Channel 1 (yes with the Nikon CLS system you can control the output of you external Speedights from the camera position without touching your Speedlights).  Also notice that you can set multiple groups of Speedlights if you desire to do a multiple light setup for portraits and the wireless function really comes in handy (if you have ever tripped over a wire and destroyed a Speedlight you will understand).

Macro9

The only step left to do is set your external Speedlight to Remote and be sure to pop the built in flash on your camera up.  Also make sure your external flash is set to channel 1. The built in flash will communicate with the external flash through infrared signals. It will not fire it will only control the remote.

Macro10

A word to the wise is after you are done with your remote lighting session switch your menu settings back to their defaults. Your pop up flash will not fire until you do.

I hope those of you with macro lenses or about to purchase a macro lens will find this post handy and also anyone who owns one of the Nikon cameras listed above will experiment with remote wireless flash. It is simple to set up and can really improve your photos by moving the flash off camera. Hmmm maybe that should be a separate post, LOL.

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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.

SeaBreezeTwo

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.

ExampleA

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.

ExampleB

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.

ExampleC

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.

ExampleD

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.

ExampleE

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.

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