Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter's Beauty - (and some back to basics)

I've never been a big fan of winter, but for some reason, this winter seems different... more magical or something. It's probably because I don't have to get up in the dark to go to work any more - retirement is just SO GOOD!!

Anyway, I snapped this just outside of Elgin NB yesterday. For those of you who want the specs, here goes -

  • Time of day - right before sunset, whenever that is.
  • Conditions - overcast
  • Camera - EOS 7D with EF 40mm f2.8
  • Aperture Priority Mode
  • ISO - 800
  • Aperture - f2.8
  • Shutter - 1/20 sec
  • Exposure compensation - none
  • Handheld, no stabilization (not available on this lens)
  • Post Processing - GIMP - JPEG (no RAW) increased contrast by +10 (one click)

I say all this for you camera Newbies out there - this is what this Blog is all about - beginner photographers, although I often stray from this. So this is a fairly sharp picture considering I was at ISO800 in low light, with wide open aperture and handheld with only a 1/20 shutter - all marginal conditions. So, as a simple review - Aperture Priority means you set the lens aperture (F-stop) manually and the camera will automatically select the right shutter speed for the best exposure. In this case it was getting dark, so I wanted to force my aperture to be wide open which is f2.8. At ISO 800, it made the shutter quite slow at 1/20 which is very risky for camera shake, but from experience, I know I can easily hand-hold down to 1/15. I could have set ISO at 1600 and my shutter would have gone faster to 1/40 (double ISO and you double the shutter speed if you leave the f-stop at the same value- get it?). The higher up you go with ISO, the more noise (speckle) you get in your pictures - especially in dark subject matter, and I wanted this one to be real clean. As for exposure compensation, this drives your camera to make things lighter or darker with respect to what Exposure Value (EV) the light meter is telling it, but it has to get that "lighter or darker" by sacrificing something else - like ISO or shutter speed. If I was using "Auto-ISO" instead of setting it at 800 and wanted a brighter picture,  the camera probably would've "sacrificed" ISO by bumping it up to 1600 - which I didn't want, so with my ISO fixed at 800, the only other thing it could've done was reduce the shutter speed to 1/10, which would surely have ruined the picture because of blur from my shaky hands. Very few people can hand-hold (no tripod) a camera lower than 1/15 sec.

Now - for those of you with a point and shoot digital - you might ask if this picture could've been taken with your camera in simple, fully automatic mode. I will say yes - it was getting dark, but there was a bit of daylight left. Here's what would have happened -

  • To manage f2.8, you would have had to set your zoom at the widest setting possible, and your picture would be super wide, and actually much more dramatic looking than mine.
  • Your Auto ISO would have gone to 1600, making for a noisy picture, especially as point and shoots have a much smaller sensor and are noisier by nature than DSLR cameras
  • The shutter would have gone to 1/30
  • The flash might've automatically fired, unless you had it "forced off". Actually, flash might have been useful here, because your ISO would have gone lower like maybe down to a much cleaner 400, and the tree limbs in the foreground would have been lit up a bit with the flash - however, the entire background would have gone very dark in this case. You might try two shots in full automatic in this case - one with flash and one without, and if you had done this with a tripod so both pictures were exactly the same, you could have photo-shopped them into a "High Dynamic Range" (HDR) blended picture. With some newer Point 'n' Shoots, HDR is built right into the camera - if you got a new camera for Christmas, check this out - read the manual.

It's nice to shoot with  the 7D, especially now that I've got the micro-focus sorted out. What a difference! Previous to doing the adjustment, it seemed like no part of any of my pictures was really in focus. Most cameras don't have this adjustment, but then, most cameras don't need it. I will say - perhaps this is bulls***, perhaps not, but from what I'm reading on Forums, it seems that for cameras sold with this ability to micro-adjust the focus, you probably need to do it. On one Forum where a perplexed 7D owner was wondering why her pictures were always lifeless, I saw a comment in reply that said something like "the 7D works so much better with Canon's "L" series lenses". The "L" series of course is mega-expensive, and when I see a comment like that, I can't help but think it was entered by a Canon sales rep. Certainly, any Canon SLR will work better with these lenses, but us "folk photographers" can't afford them. The EOS 7D is one fine camera (which I can't really afford either - my greatest folly of 2012 - oh well...), so I expect that it is probably calibrated at the factory in some way "optimized for the L Series". Why wouldn't they? But for the rest of us, if you own a 7D or any other camera with a micro-adjust feature, I strongly recommend that if you're consistently disappointed with your pictures, find out how to make this adjustment and work with it a bit. It's not difficult, unless you really enjoy making things difficult. All I had to do was make one global (all lenses the same) adjustment from "0" to "+8" and if you happen to own a 7D or similar DSLR, give that a try and see if your pictures get better.

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