Friday, August 31, 2012

Now We're Talking!!

Best Idea Since...

I think somebody has finally invented what I've been looking for. Samsung has just announced their GALAXY Camera. Are they really the first corporation to come up with a device like this? I know that WiFi Cameras have been around for awhile, but what about one with the full Android OS, 3G / 4G communication, and a 20X Optical Zoom lens? Furthermore, a device that does so much and remains TRULY pocketable. There are lots of small cameras out there, but once you get a 20X Zoom stuck on it, "pocketable" becomes questionable!

I expect the camera performance of this game-changer to be truly exceptional - not in the sense of ultimate DSLR image quality, but in other meaningful ways. It does have OPTICAL Image Stabilization, a "Digicam" sized sensor (bigger than a Smartphone sensor), the lens is f2.8 - 5.9, like most big Travel-Zooms these days, max. ISO is 3200, so I expect "reasonable" performance would be similar to any compact at ISO 800... need I go on?

The real beauty of this device is in it's full-blown on-board Operating System and communication capability. Immediate storage of all your pictures on a Cloud service as soon as you take the picture, and ultimate availability of all Android Photo Editing Apps right in your hand - not the ultimate toolset for "serious photography", but then, I'm not always about serious photography, am I? 

I love my Samsung Galaxy S II camera. I took the "not bad" picture above with it, and I'm sure everyone is now fully aware that iPhone and Android Device Cameras are capable enough and lots of fun. Samsung is going to take this to a new, previously unknown level - a high performance sub-compact camera that also has everything else Android has to offer along with it, except for ... well, a telephone! And I expect this won't be to far behind, that is pretty obvious. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why I Don't Like Noise Reduction

With NR

Without NR

Here's a shot I took of my boss yesterday. Camera was set at 6400 ISO, using my Mir-20 lens, which is a Russian built 20mm (my APS-C sensor turns this into 20 x 1.6 = 32mm). I was using Aperture Priority with the lens opened to it's widest aperture of 3.5. I always keep my in-camera Noise Reduction turned off, and this was simply shot as a Medium JPEG (no RAW). I'm just trying to avoid RAW for awhile, coz Ken Rockwell says I don't need it (hah!) I had pre-focussed the lens while Merlin was busy having a bath by slightly front-focusing ahead of that "splack" on the wall, thinking this would be the best focus point for his eyes if I could get him to look up - turns out this was just right. I said "Boss, Boss" a couple of times and he looked up - that's when I took the shot. The shutter speed turned out to be 1/30.

Here is where personal preference comes in - I noticed the picture is pretty noisy - as expected at ISO 6400, but I sure like the detail that came through around Merlin's eyes and nose. As an experiment, I used Photivo to try some noise reduction. I was heavy handed with it, because all the "good" camera review sites suggest that at high ISO, you have to be to get a technically "good" picture. I personally prefer this without NR - just let the camera, and Merlin, and my bad housekeeping be themselves.

Noise Reduction is for cleaning things up - sometimes it makes things better - I used it in my night photos, but I leave it switched off in my camera, just to give me the choice of introducing it in Post Processing, because it tends to turn the noise speckles into blotches - that is how it works. Also, in your camera, only one NR algorithm is used. PP software like Photivo give you a choice of 9 different methods, with various sliders to vary the effectiveness, depending on the method used.

The Boss says "leave good enough alone!"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Framing With Focus and Light

I took this picture of a nice hot-rodded Bug during my SappyFest street shoot, on my way home. It wasn't really related to SappyFest so I didn't do anything with it until now. This is one of those pictures which shows that I am enthusiastic about using Post Processing (PP) in creating my personal style. There is some debate about this among photographers, whether PP should be relied upon, or if a "personal style" of photography should come straight from the camera. I may be wrong about this, but those who are strong of opinion one way or the other, also fall into the Digital vis Film camps. I am not strong of opinion either way, because I really admire film photography, and as I've said before on a couple of occasions, all of the really cool cameras are film cameras. The trouble is, I simply cannot bring myself back to using film - some of my best shots were made with film, but I'm now too far gone Digital.

But enough about that. I shot this picture through my Jupiter-9 Lens - a Russian gem which is very fast, has beautiful glass and an amazing 11 blade aperture. It was a bit tricky, as obviously this is a very old manual focus lens, I had it fairly opened up to f5.6, so the depth of field (DOF) was still quite shallow, and the car was moving. I'm amazed I was able to keep it in focus, but by good luck (and the very helpfully superb EOS 7D viewfinder) I managed to keep a bead on the car. Now, here is a perfect example as to why I insist on having a great optical viewfinder with manual focus assist. If you look closely, I think my focus is a wee bit soft- I was actually focussed more in the front of the car, but under these circumstances, it came off well.

So, with a good shot to start with, (no matter what, you always need a good photo) I went to Post Processing to see if I could really turn this into something more like art. The first thing I noticed besides I did a pretty god job focussing on the Bug while having everything else de-focused, was how most of the light was also on the Bug, and most everything else was in shadow. I decided to put more emphasis on this.

Although the original exposure was perfect, the first step was to reduce the EV by one stop (using the RAW file in Photivo). This darkened the whole picture, but the shadow zones got even darker - perfect start. Next. I did everything I could to raise the exposure of the highlights only - Photivo has a number of different ways of doing this - I tried them all. The effect of each step was very subtle, but as each accumulated, the Bug began standing out more and more from the background, which remained dark and fuzzy. I left the mid-tones alone and concentrated only on the highlights.

Finally, although it wasn't really necessary, I thought I'd try some Vignetting (a circle of darkening usually produced by very cheap lenses, but can also be added for effect with PP software). I made the Vignette soft but noticeable, and it helped even more to keep the Bug in the spotlight, while also keeping the overall context of the picture.

A fairly easy Post Processing procedure, but it's also important to note that I had a good capture that was already started with the focussing and lighting emphasis this picture needed to turn it into something that suited my personal style.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Everything To The Max At The Beach

Have you ever been to a beach on a rainy and foggy day? We always think of a trip to the beach on a sunny day, but when there is a "rain or shine" sandcastle competition happening, thousands will end up on the beach in the fog and rain. This past weekend, there was such an event held at the Clam Harbour Beach Provincial Park, and I got lots of pictures, but didn't manage to stay through the whole time.

Because of the weather conditions resulting in pictures like this-
Dull and Lifeless

- I thought I'd try something different, and set my camera to "Ken Rockwell Style". Ken is known for his extremely strong use of colour, among other things. He likes to shoot only JPEG, and gets his highly saturated pictures straight from the camera, so after taking a couple of test shots and seeing what effect the fog and rain would have on my pictures, I set up a User Style simply by cranking the Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation sliders "to the max" right in my camera. Keep in mind this is the Canon DSLR way of doing it (all Canon DSLR's, even the least expensive of the Digital Rebel series does it this way - I assume there is another way of doing this with most other cameras within the set-up menu).

Aside from using this special "Style Setting", I was using my really ancient Canon EF 70-210 f4.0 Zoom lens (Serial Number dated for 1987) - a great lens - even Ken said so. Also, Aperture Priority set at f6.7, ISO 400, Evaluative Metering, Single Spot Auto-Focus and Medium JPEG (no RAW).

I must admit - I REALLY REALLY like the way these turned out! The colours are a bit exaggerated, but I'm really impressed by the way with these extreme settings, the camera literally cut through the fog.  I wouldn't use this set-up all the time, like KR does, but it really works wonders in dull gray weather.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Basic Night Shooting

See the "Update" Below

Like the title says, this is real basic stuff. Basically, it leans toward how to get a good snapshot after dark with a digital camera - this doesn't apply to film, because the technique would be quite different.

Digital cameras have an amazing ability to "see in the dark" - so much so that sometimes, even though you might have taken the picture in the dark, it will still resemble full daylight. This is because of the high ISO's that digital cameras are capable of. Where drugstore snapshot colour film was typically available with an ISO of 400 (remember those days?), a digital camera is just getting started there - newer DSLR's get up to 6400 with just a little noise, and a good quality small sensor compact can shoot a not-to-shabby 800 or even 1600. If then, you have your camera set on "full automatic", a very low light night scene will boost the ISO to a much higher value, seeking to maintain a bright picture. If you want to make your pictures actually look like they were taken after dark, you need to take some simple alternate measures.

I took these three pictures just after twilight at the Atlantic Harmonica Festival in Lake Charlotte Nova Scotia. The setting is a quaint historic village where time stood still. As you can see, even though the sun had just set (and it was actually a cloudy night), my camera still picked up a lot of brightness, in spite of the "tricks" I had played. Technically speaking, I was on the right track, but I just didn't go quite far enough to emulate how dark it really was, so these are good pictures to talk about this particular demonstration with.

I had my camera set for JPEG - I generally don't use RAW at events like this, because I don't want to deal with a lot of RAW processing afterwards. If I had been shooting RAW (and I could've been for these three pictures only, but I forgot), I would have had a lot more flexibility, but this is to show that even using JPEG, if your camera doesn't have RAW, is good enough for night work.

If you have a camera with a "Night Scene" setting, then simply use it. This setting will automatically do what I'm about to describe. Mine doesn't have "Night Scene" or any other such things, because it's a professional grade camera that assumes the user knows what he is doing (and clearly I don't!) Anyway, just as well, because this is a demonstration on how to make a night picture, and the process involved, whether you do it yourself, or the camera does it for you. With my camera, I have to do it myself.

So, I was set for JPEG, Aperture Priority, Automatic White Balance, Single Point Auto Focus and ISO 3200. These are the basic settings I was shooting the harmonica concert with, and I didn't change them. However, I did manage enough presence of mind to set a "deeper" Aperture of 5.6, down from 4.0 for a little more depth of field, and most importantly, knowing how I wanted it to look like a night scene, I set my Auto-Exposure Value for 1-1/2 Stops of underexposure. I can see now that I should have gone with 2 or even 2-1/2 Stops, but that's OK - this makes a perfect demonstration, if not perfect night photos. Naturally, I can still play with these in software to create a little more under-exposure, but that would ruin my demo. Just remember, ideally I should have been shooting with RAW, and with more underexposure.

Now, what happens? If you had set your camera for Night Scene, that's it - you would have gotten a perfect night-looking JPEG. For me, it's a little different - I needed to do some work in GIMP (or Photoshop - $$$), because I ended up with rather dull, under-exposed pictures. So here's the trick. Do not try to compensate the dull-ness by raising the picture's Exposure Value or Brightness - that would simply get you right back to making the picture look like what the camera would have been automatically trying to do - full daytime brightness, except you would have a lot more noise in the picture, because you had already dialled in a lot of underexposure. If you re-boost the EV or brightness, you'll be boosting a whole lot of unwanted noise with it. Instead, you have to work on the pictures "Levels" and "Curves" in that order. When you open these dialogues in your software, you'll see a Histogram is provided. Because the pictures are under-exposed, you should see the Histogram is biased toward the lower end, with no values showing past the upper two-thirds (ideally). In "Levels", you'll see three little sliders underneath the Histogram - what you want to do in this case is work with the slider on the far right only, and drag it to the left toward the point where the Histogram "runs out of light". As you do this, you'll notice your picture brightens up the more you drag this right-most slider to the left. In actual fact, it's only the brighter parts of the picture that are being raised - the darkest parts are staying dark, and no (or not much) noise is being added. Do not slide it any further than where the Histogram bottoms out, or you will start adding a lot of noise.

This is a lot easier to do than I just made it sound, by the way.

Next, once you've adjusted the Levels, click OK and save the picture file. Now, open the "Curves" dialogue. This time you'll see the Histogram with a straight line through it at a 45 degree angle. You might also notice that the Histogram now has some "comb-teeth" through it (called "comb-filter effect") this is normal - the software is simply doing some noise-suppression from the adjustment you just made, and that's what it looks like on the Histogram. Now, what you're attempting to do here is to just boost the picture's very brightest highlights a little more, so using your mouse pointer, click and drag somewhere in the upper 3/4 of the diagonal line, and pull it upwards - the line will now curve up at that end. As you drag up, the picture's highlights will also brighten - don't go too far- just enough to make the picture pleasing to your eye, and that's it. Click OK, and re-save.

These three things - underexposure, levels and curves are what your camera's "Night Scene" setting does automatically, so if you want to save yourself all this trouble, don't buy an expensive camera!


The fourth picture down, of the Esso Gas Pumps, is a better attempt at a night photograph. I took the time and followed what I had suggested above to a greater extent, using Photivo, because it has more features. Yes- Photivo can be used to do things with JPEG's. Functions that can be done in RAW only are grayed out. Basically, all I did was add another stop of negative EV (for a grand total of 2-1/2), then I played with the levels and curves further, using Photivo. Some noise appeared in the mid-tones, and to calm this down, I tried and kept three things - 1) Impulse Noise Reduction, 2) Orton Softglow, which does a nice "smear", making it look dreamy and hiding a lot of the noise, and 3) I added a heavy Vignette, which darkened the sky in the corner, further hiding noise that had appeared there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Fixed Focal Guide

This is for nuts like me who prefer fixed focal length (prime) lenses to the zoom lenses that usually come with SLR cameras. This is meant to be a guide as to how best to use each individual focal length, and also to make a comparison between using them on film or full-frame digital, versus APS-C sensor DSLR's.

First though, I'll provide some brief background as to why prime lenses are preferred in the first place. It is always agreed that zoom lenses are more convenient in getting a picture composed, and I actually use my zooms just as much as my primes - I'd say it's pretty much 50/50. I know that I'm not the only "nut" out there who feels this way - camera makers are still making prime lenses of all kinds of different types (like Stabilized, Macro - Optimized, etc.) and they're selling like hotcakes. I think, and most would agree that once photographers get on the learning curve, they realize a couple of things about lenses.

First, zoom lenses always have compromises in their design, however good they might be. One compromise is size and weight, especially when a zoom is very good. For new high quality zooms that really hold their own in image quality, the price that is paid is always size (and price!). Also, there are some new zooms that are using new manufacturing technology to extend the zoom range and reduce the size all at the same time, known as "all-in-one" or "travel zooms". These are quite good, but if you want ultimate image quality, this type of lens makes it's compromises in the image quality department, but are smaller, lighter and much more convenient.

The second thing a photographer realizes is that zoom lenses create compromises in one's actual photography. Zoom lenses, with their wonderful convenience of being able to vary the focal length with respect to where you're standing, make it so that we do not think that it might be better to change where we're standing. A shooting position from one particular focal length might not necessarily be the best position to be in for another - and when you're using a zoom and have not yet learned this lesson, you will succumb to simply turning the zoom ring instead of changing your perspective. I know that's what I do. It is generally agreed that prime lenses make for more creative photography, for the very simple reason that one must be more creative to use them.

Prime Lenses offer focal lengths which are designed with simple "objectives" in mind. These are thought of in four categories - Wide Angle, Normal View, Portrait and Telephoto. With respect for the way lenses were marketed during the "Spotmatic" film era, these are represented as 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm respectively, as the most common lenses available for 35mm SLR and Rangefinder Film Cameras. Lenses that were sold significantly different than these common focal lengths were described as "super" or "ultra" wide / telephoto.

Normal View (nominally 50mm but were sold by various makes at between 45 and 60mm) is thought of as the field of view normally seen by the human eye. As a lens, it was usually the one that came with your SLR camera in the old days, as they were the easiest and therefore cheapest optic formula to make. It is "the right" lens with which to approximate human vision, and so very common. My experience shooting at 50mm is that it's great for snapshot type photography, where a family member or small group of friends might be the main subject, with part of a building, or a scenic landscape in the background. A common restriction of 50mm is that you could never use it to fit in an entire building as a main subject, which is correct, because human vision cannot take in an entire building, unless standing so far away from it as to lose a lot of detail. Another observation is that it is hard to invoke "drama" in the shot, as this focal length does not provide any wide angle, or telephoto distortion - it simply sees the world as we do. However, 50mm is a great lens for creating great "bokeh" (nicely blurred backgrounds) because they have a very wide aperture, typically f2, f1.8 or even f1.4. This is because 50mm is the easiest optical formula to achieve. Such wide apertures also make them great for shooting in the dark without flash.

Next there is the Wide Angle lens. As the name suggests, these will take in a field of view that is wider than the normal human field of vision, and in doing so, will make things look farther away than they really are - just like the passenger side wing mirror on your car. Wide angles are becoming the preferred lens to have by many, because they can be used to capture a whole building, a wider landscape, a larger group of people, great interior shots, and an added sense of drama, because of the introduction of some wide angle distortion. Many feel that if they could only have one lens, it would be wide. To take a shot of a single person or small group with a wide angle, you have to step closer to them, but the beauty is that you can get a more exciting looking picture as you balance the main subject while playing the wide distortion around them.

Portrait lenses have a tighter than normal field of view, intended for shooting a head to shoulder picture of a single person or small group, with a very de-emphasized background. These are also typically very fast (wide aperture, great bokeh) lenses, but are bigger and heavier than normal view lenses. There is no noticeable distortion characteristic, but a true Portrait Lens should feature a bit of "soft focus" to best make a flattering portrait with a nice glow, and subtle tones in place of lines and skin blemishes.

Then there is the Telephoto. These are long focal length lenses - greater than 100mm. These are useful in situations where you simply cannot get up close to the subject, as in sporting events, or music concerts. A good telephoto will bring a subject in very close and very clear, but also adds telephoto distortion, which is a compression of distance. It is hard to make "artistic use" of this kind of distortion, unless there is a long repeating pattern in the depth of the picture, as I discussed here. I am also of the opinion that telephoto is the best use of zoom (in other words, you might as well have a Telephoto Zoom) as you are not likely to gain much of anything by changing your vantage point if you are already at a "telephoto distance" from the subject.

Finally, the "crop factor" difference between a full frame 35mm camera, and one with an APS-C sized Digital Sensor makes a huge difference in the actual lens selection. The APS-C Sensor is just like adding 1.5x (Nikon and Pentax) or 1.6x (Canon) of "digital zoom" which is great if you like to shoot from a greater distance, and not be right in the face of your subject. On the other hand, if you are a radical wide shooter, with APS-C cameras, it is more difficult to achieve super-wide, unless you buy a new purpose built APS-C lens. It's enough to change the entire purpose of a lens - a Full Frame Wide Angle becomes your new Normal View lens, and a Normal View will become a Portrait Lens, as the following table will show:

Full Frame / 35mm Film
APS – C DSLR (1.6x Canon)
Ultra Wide Angle
32mm Bold Wide Angle
Super Wide Angle
38.4mm Normal Wide Angle
Bold Wide Angle
44.8mm Wide Normal View
Normal Wide Angle
56mm Normal View
Normal View
80mm Portrait
136mm Telephoto
Moderate Telephoto
160mm Telephoto
216mm Super Telephoto
Super Telephoto
320mm Ultra Telephoto

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Photivo - A Great Choice

Top- After Photivo  Bottom - Before Photivo

As an Open Source software devotee, I look back and realize I've probably written more about this than any other topic on this Blog, and if this is getting tedious for some, I'm truly sorry. It's just that Open Source is having its day - right now. It no longer means that you have to be running some kind of Linux or BSD Operating System to use Open Source Applications. Most of the really good ones are also available for Windows. This gives an advantage for Windows users of being able to procure really seriously great photography software free of charge, but there's more to it than that. These applications are not just "reverse engineered clones" of high cost commercial kits any more. Some might have started that way, but over time, they have developed merits of their own, as the Open Source developers have gotten way beyond making free copies of the good stuff, and now are using their imaginations to introduce new ideas that differentiate Open Source from the commercial mainstream.

There is one cardinal rule for Open Source software that must be kept at all times - otherwise it isn't Open Source - that is, the Source Code for any given product must be made available to everyone, so that anybody who has the skill to do so can modify the code and re-introduce it as something new and (hopefully) better. The fact that many programs are offered packaged free of charge is beside the point - not all Open Source software is "Freeware". The main point is, that the Source Code must be offered freely in two ways - 1) free of legal proprietary claims which prevent others from working on it to improve it or make it into another product, and 2) free of charge. Get it? It is the Source Code, and not necessarily the user-friendly end product that must be free of charge. It is this fact which makes open Source a true haven of creativity.

Which brings me to the subject at hand - Photivo. It has become my favourite RAW Processing Software. Now, please consider what I'm about to say in this light - I have absolutely ZERO experience with the big commercial programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements, etc. To be honest, I've never seen any of these in action, and haven't even so much as looked at an on-line screenshot. This may change by next week, as I am planning on purchasing a semi-pro pigment ink printer - either a Canon or Epson - haven't decided yet, and chances are, it'll come packaged with Adobe Elements. I will also most likely have to run this printer from Windows to get the most out of it's features, that is assuming that the Linux community have even created a driver for the model I buy - Printer Drivers are a weakness of Linux, and even if there is a driver available, it usually has restricted features, or might not behave right in some way. So all that to simply say that I might soon have a commercial software product as a point of comparison.

So, again - Photivo (sorry!). It has every RAW adjustment imaginable, allowing a photographer to truly  bring out the art in every photograph. It is an incredibly intimidating program to use at first, especially when you're new to the concept of RAW Processing. If you're a total newbie to RAW, then NOTHING about Photivo will make sense to you. But, if you take your time, and read up on your Photo Terminology, and at the same time open a RAW file with Photivo to work with it, things will quickly begin to make sense. To get the most out of it, I recommend a nice big high quality computer monitor (at least 19" size) - if you're using a Laptop screen, you might not be able to see everything Photivo is doing. So, at the top, you can see a before and after of one picture that I stepped through.

That being said, I like to use any photo processing software with care. I've seen so many pictures that get so overworked with RAW processors, they no longer have a clear subject. One thing I love about Photivo is that it is always in a live-preview mode, so that every enhancement you make can be seen and undone for comparison. My approach to each enhancement is that if I clearly see a difference, I probably went too far and so I back it off a bit. Meanwhile, each step you take is cumulative in Photivo, so each change builds upon, and is also affected by, a previous step. If you feel things are getting out of hand, you can always go back and reduce, or turn off, some previous step. I'm sure this is true of most commercial giant photo software, but not always so with the Open Source programs. 

So, a note to my faithful readers - even if you already have one or more of the industry standards, why not download and try Photivo, and make some comparisons.

UPDATE - Photivo can also be compiled on a Mac!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Always Wondering - Is There a Better Way?

As Cool As I Can make It

I was almost out of my mind yesterday. You know, how I was struggling with how I thought I needed a "cool" kind of in-between camera, that would be better than the smartphone, but less imposing and geeky than the EOS 7D... even to the point of going back to the dark side - film! I even spent two hours yesterday reading up on how to develop B&W film. Really, it doesn't look too hard. All the really cool cameras are film - that's just a fact, isn't it? No really - I can only think of one really cool digital system camera that would still give me a proper optical viewfinder (an absolute must-have) - the Pentax Q with optional accessory. But that's not what I have, nor would it quite serve the purpose of being a good indoor event camera, and it's a bit too expensive to be a second camera, at least for me, on a pension!

However, what I do have is something new! Yes, this past Saturday I bought a new lens to round out my collection of "old glass". It's a Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f3.5, in mint condition. It's really "right". Very compact, very lightweight, makes superb images, has a "just right" focal length for walkabouts, and best of all, it makes my camera look a little more old-school. Manual focus is a total snap with this lens, and what I see in the viewfinder is spot-on with what the camera delivers, with no micro-adjustment necessary.

Film, you say? Nah, why bother! I'll sleep well tonight. Oh, by the way, you might be wondering - what did I take the picture of my camera with? The "phantom" camera of course - my wife's Digital Rebel XS with Kit Zoom, her hand-me-down from me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Talkin' Cameras, Again


I just shot this with my smartphone camera, which still never ceases to amaze me. Whether it's Apple or Android (I mention this because it's big news this week - they're starting to get real nasty to each other), it doesn't matter - these little gadgets are hot hot hot!

At the same time I admit, I'm having a bit of a second thoughts thing happening this week, concerning the 7D. I'm finding it too big, and, especially with my recent upgrade to Firmware 2.0, I'm asking myself - "why am I owning a camera with which I'll never use half of what it is capable of?" As for being too big, actually it's no bigger than my previous 40D, which suffered an expensive breakdown, yet I didn't seem so concerned walking about with that camera. So, what's really going on? I think I know. I only paid $275 for the 40D, second hand, but the 7D was $1150 (brand new, taxes in, great bargain). The cheapskate in me is feeling the weight of spent money hanging around my neck, that's what it is.

I keep going back to the biggest reasons I bought this camera - 1) the amazing viewfinder - something I can't do without for my "serious" photography, especially as I'm usually using manual focus lenses, and 2) the unbeatable build quality. I have this camera with event shooting in mind, which makes perfect sense, as neither a smartphone camera, nor a compact, are capable of dealing with the indoor / no flash allowed events which I go to. For this purpose, the 7D is exactly the right camera.

But what about between events? It's my walk-about shooting which is bothering me so much. For this, the 7D is too much camera in both size and sophistication, and the smartphone, wonderful as it is, has obvious limitations. 

Knowing that in the past, I did my best walkabout shooting by far with a Zorki-4, I'm considering a return to film for my second camera. I still have my Spotmatic, for which all my lenses are compatible, but I still would like something more compact and less conspicuous. I could get another Trip-35 (mine is now broken), but I think this is what I really want. 

I've also made up my mind that if I go to film for my walkabouts, it would be strictly black and white. It is my opinion that digital does not do B&W nearly as well as film does. After so many years, only Leica has bothered to make a dedicated B&W digital camera, the ridiculously unaffordable M-Monochrom 

I'm going to walk before I can run however. First will be a purchase of a roll of Ilford which I will use in my Spotmatic, which I will have to get processed at Ivan's in Moncton - just to see if I can really get into this seriously - digital has me so spoiled, I need to rediscover the merits of "real photography" I guess. If the results really pull me in, then will come the Rollei 35, and maybe even a simple darkroom setup.

Could this be the beginning of another adventure?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Firmware Update!

 Straight from Camera RAW Conversion - Unaltered
RAW Enhanced  and Converted In Camera

Beginner Friendly - Digital Cameras have "Firmware" - they all do. It is a kind of software that is "firm", which means it stays the same until the manufacturer upgrades it, and when an upgrade comes out, it takes a small bit of technical effort on the part of the user to apply the upgrade to the camera. It is exactly the same as doing a BIOS Upgrade on your computer. The camera firmware, and a computer's BIOS are both stored in the device's Read Only Memory (ROM).

Anyway, a couple of months ago, Canon announced that they're going to provide a Firmware Upgrade for the EOS 7D sometime in August. This was billed as "the most significant upgrade" Canon has ever provided for any camera. Well, here we are, the first week into August, and the upgrade is now available, as promised. I just did mine this morning. 

The above two pictures demonstrate two of the many significant features contained in the upgrade - RAW to JPEG conversion, and RAW file manipulation, both in the camera, without computer software. I'll talk more specific about this shortly, but this is clearly a case of Canon doing a "competitive upgrade" to the 7D, which was introduced in 2009, and was in need of a lot of added features - like, most newer DSLR's now have in-camera RAW to JPEG conversion. This is the part of the upgrade I was most excited about, and so I immediately wanted to try it out.  Without leaving my chair, I snapped a picture of Merlin in RAW, and then went to the Menu to try out the new feature.

So - just a little about the shot - I went with full auto "P" mode, Auto-focus and auto-ISO. With this, the camera selected ISO 3200, Aperture f3.5 and Shutter of 1/20. I forgot to switch on Image Stabilization, which might explain the little bit of motion blur. If I had been thinking, I would have set the ISO at 6400 with Stabilization on, which would've given a Shutter of 1/40. But, this was just to test the new feature, so not a big deal. 

I am pleased with how simple the process is in-camera; it works totally with a sub-menu that keeps the picture on-screen, and as you alter the settings, you can see the results in the on-screen preview. It all makes use of the camera's own internal settings, so basically, instead of pre-selecting all the settings for sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation (including monochrome) lighting optimization and noise reduction (among others), you can take the picture first, and adjust these parameters afterwards. When you're done, the camera assigns a brand new file number to the JPEG image it just created, and stores it on the Memory Card.

So, as for what I did to Merlin, I added sharpness and contrast, applied the maximum Auto-Lighting optimization, and the maximum Noise Reduction. This gave an overall less blurry picture, and brought out the bright highlights in the old boy's fur. I expect I'll find this quite useful. As for the rest of the upgrade, there's not much I'm really interested in using, although there's enough added features that Canon has re-issued the 7D user's manual in conjunction with this upgrade, which normally doesn't happen.

This all leaves me wondering - why did I buy a 7D in the first place, seeing as, with my style of photography I seldom, if ever, use most of the features this camera is capable of? I think I'll attempt to answer that in my next post. Am I having second thoughts? Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Mean Streets

Street Photography is not easy – not a bit! It is right up there as one of my favourite genres to look at, but doing it is very difficult. I'm not even going to pretend that I'm god at it – I am not. I like to try once in awhile, especially when there are street events happening, which helps make it a little easier.  So, when a festival comes to town, I simply walk around taking pictures ofpeople who are just hanging around between gigs. That's about as exciting as “street photography” gets in a small town.

Now, take a close look at this girl and her dog.

Even though I was using my Jupiter-9 lens (an 85mm, which is equivalent to 135mm on a Canon APS-C), I was still close enough that she saw me – briefly she was staring straight into my lens, and didn't look too pleased. Note the hand gesture. I know there are courtesies that street photographers are supposed to extend to people, but I find that to be the hardest part. I'm much too shy to strike up a conversation, even a simple “Hi – I did just take your picture, and I'm not part of the Media. I just enjoy taking pictures. Here's the one I just took of you, and I'll delete it if you wish”. This is the right approach, but I simply walked by without saying a word.

I know I could make it a lot easier on myself, by just being friendly and obliging. I don't believe in getting people to pose – I know there is some controversy about this, but I'm on the side that says street photography ought to have completely un-posed subjects – shoot first and talk immediately after, I believe is the right approach. A particularly wrong way is to be totally un-obvious – use a spy camera (I don't have one), or shoot from the hip. I tried the latter approach, using my Flip-Bac, and managed to get a couple of good shots, but most were not usable. Here are two where the Flip-Bac worked OK:

I know I simply need to work on my social skills, and I will come out of this enjoying it even more.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Why Do We Do It?

Why is there "Photography?" Why do people take pictures? Especially now, in our times when so many people have small video cameras so readily at hand (as part of their cell phones I mean), why do we still take photographs instead of videos? After all, videos are potentially more valuable - more likely to get you on TV - say if you spot an aircraft falling from the sky, who wouldn't want to be the one of potentially thousands who have the credit "Video Courtesy Of..." on the evening news?

What's more - we know that everybody is watching TV - all video's, both amateur and professional are being consumed by a mass worldwide audience - of that you can be certain. So why is there still this thing called Photography, which, thanks to Digital Cameras, has become more popular than ever? Do people really even bother to look at photographs any more? I mean really? Go into a typical home of anybody who is now under age 40 (Gen-X'ers - wow, time sure is passing isn't it?) - and aside from maybe a couple of professional wedding pictures and  baby pictures, are there any photographs hanging on the wall, or in coffee table frames? Chances are, there will not be any photos (or paintings) of any kind, but I can guarantee - one thing you will see is a flat screen TV hanging prominently and proudly on the wall. Naturally one could argue that the TV could be used as a central display for all photographs and other media -- and yes, I will buy that if it were true, but chances are, you'll never see a slide-show running on the 52 inch TV, will you?

I take photographs - and not videos, for a reason, even though my camera is capable of "cinematic" videos, with the right accessories. The photo above is pretty much only a snapshot, taken with my phone camera, while I was waiting for somebody to come through the checkout line. But I just "saw" something here - a composition, combined with a story. So I took the picture, and I'm so glad I did. But why? Why take it at all? I'm glad I took it, because somehow, it just "works". It is a record of what I "saw" - whatever it was that caught my gaze is now available for analysis, criticism and enjoyment. That is the photographic artist in me. Before photography became an art, this is why people made drawings and paintings. Mostly, this picture is now a captured moment in history. It is a point of comparison between now - the 21st Century, and the photographs of men with hats sitting around the cracker barrels of the old General Stores of a Century ago. Was I thinking that when I took the picture? Nope! not at all. It was simply that I had the time, it caught my eye, I unholstered my cell phone and took the picture. It's only now, afterwards, that I'm thinking about how our modern Supermarkets compare with the old General Stores. What do people look like now, compared to then? What signs are hanging? How are goods bought and paid for? What are the lights in the store like? It's all there.

Would this have worked as a Video? In my opinion, no. Videos are viewed differently. Videos have an element of passing time. This scene would be totally boring and forgettable as a video - totally of no value, because it is something we all experience daily, and a video would be just more of the same, and pointless. But as a photograph, it is a frozen moment. It becomes something other than our everyday reality. It becomes something about ourselves that is more real than real. It becomes an all important point in history - a point that can be analysed, compared, or simply enjoyed for what it is.

This is why I do it.