Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When do I use my camera's flash?

Mostly for indoor photos when your camera does not take steady, sharp photos.

I was trying to take a photo of my son who had put on spy glasses and mustache. I took out Canon T3i and fired the shot. Camera needed .5s and that is too long for my hands to hold the camera steady. It is even more difficult for my son to be not moving for that much time!!
The result was a blurry shot as shown below.

I immediately turned the flash on and the Canon T3i bumped up shutter speed to 1/80 and result was a nice photo. In Auto mode, my camera was struggling but then I added a little command to the camera and asked it to use the flash. The result is in the photo below.
As I keep saying in this blog, you really don't need expensive camera all the time; just learn some basic tricks and you will be amazed by the photos you can take with the same camera.

Personal tip: When you are inside or in  low light and you need to take sharp photos, first think of using flash and if you decide not to use it for some reason, boost the ISO.

One more example:
I was inside Luxor casino/hotel in Las Vegas trying to take a photo with Pentax K100d. Due to strong backlight, camera didn't think it was necessary to turn on the flash.
Here is first photo in Auto mode:

I turned the flash on and you can see the how the photo turned out this time.

ISO- Why should I care about ISO?

ISO- All you need to know about ISO. Not Technically but in Practical way.

Yesterday I was visiting Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and was trying to take a photo inside. As happens most of the time, the inside was not very bright. Outside was bright and sunny so my camera was set at ISO 100 when I was shooting Civic Center, Dorothy and Disney Halls.

When I entered inside this beautiful cathedral, my camera. Pentax K-01, was set at ISO 100. When I clicked the shutter, it needed 4 seconds of exposure time! It was too long for me to hold camera steady for that long. As such, most of us can't hold a camera steady for more than 1/100 seconds. I mean one hundredth of the second and here camera wanted 4 seconds! There was nothing much I could do with Aperture. So my only option was ISO.
I let my ISO loose LOL. I set up ISO range to 100-6400 and let camera choose whatever it found proper. I didn't change anything else. I was in Av mode with f/8. Now camera chose ISO 6400, maximum that I allowed it to use, and this brought the shutter speed to 1/15. 60 times faster than it needed at ISO100!
See the great shift in the photo sharpness. The photo came out very nice. Also, compared to other cameras that I have used, Pentax K-01 does take nice photos in low light and with ISO as high as 6400, you would barely notice noise in the photos.

In short, in low light, ISO can help you take better photos which are almost impossible with hand holding of the camera at a fixed or low ISO.

Here is one more example of photos with ISO 100 vs ISO 3200.
Photo with ISO 100.
 Same light but with ISO 3200:

Personal tip: For outdoor photos, I keep ISO to 100 and when I get in low light or need to shoot a fast moving object, I increase ISO to as high as 6400 on Pentax K-01 but on my Nikon S9300 or Panasonic FZ28, I would hesitate to use more than ISO 800.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Nikon D3200 vs Canon T3i (600D)- comparison

Which camera is better? Nikon D3200 vs Canon T3i/600D

Both are capable cameras and should be more than enough for most consumers (not professionals) but if you want to make a more rational purchase, go for Nikon D3200:

Here are some advantages for D3200 over T3i
* Much better image quality 81.0 vs 65.0 More than 20% better image quality
* Significantly lower noise at high ISO 1,131 ISO vs 793 ISO. The D3200 has a slight edge (0.5 f-stops) in low noise, high ISO performance
* More dynamic range 13.2 EV vs 11.5 EV 1.7 f-stops more dynamic range
* Better color depth 24.1 bits vs 22.1 bits Distinguishes 2 more bits of color
* Significantly higher true resolution 24.1 MP vs 17.9 MP Capture more than 30% more detail in your photos
* Significantly less startup delay 400 ms vs 1500 ms 3.7x less delay when turning on
* Video autofocus Contrast detection vs None Automatically focuses shooting video
* Larger sensor APS-C 23.2x15.4mm vs APS-C 22.3x14.9mm Around 10% larger sensor
* Smaller 125x96x76 mm vs 133x99x79 mm More than 10% smaller
* Longer battery life 540 shots vs 440 shots More than 20% more shots per battery charge
* Slightly more focus points 11 vs 9 Set focus accurately within the frame
* Slightly more lenses available 169 lenses vs 162 lenses Almost the same
* Shoots slightly faster 4 fps vs 3.7 fps Around 10% faster continuous shooting
* Thinner 3" vs 3.1" Almost the same
* Lighter 505 g vs 570 g More than 10% lighter

On the other hand T3i/600D has a flip screen, LCD has better resolution and has built in focus motor.

As such, you will not go wrong with any one of them. Both of them are very capable cameras. Here is one interesting article about which DSLR to buy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What is 40mm, 50mm in Photography? How does it impact photos?

What is the mm on different lenses? How should I care about it? Normally mm is the distance between the lens and the sensor in the camera. It is called focal length. When it says, 50mm, the lens is 5 cm away from the sensor.

How does a 35mm lens differ from 55-300mm lens? What is a wide angle lens and why should I use it? Why 50mm Super Takumar F1.4 a nice lens on modern day cameras?
Here is a nice simulation that tell you everything you need to know without reading a single word. Thanks Nikon.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

White Balance- How to Use it to your Advantage

White Balance is essentially the color temperature in any picture, and most cameras provide some sort of functionality to control the White Balance in your shot. Because the camera sees differently than our eyes, it is sometimes important to "trick" the camera into capturing how you want color to appear in your photo.
1. If you are not sure, always start with Auto (AWB). The Auto White Balance (AWB) setting tells the camera to set the white balance for you automatically. This is a good place to start; if the photo turns out well in your preview, then there is probably no need to further adjust the white balance. But this setting can be hit or miss, so you may have to try another option.
2. If you picture has red or orange tint , the Tungsten setting (usually a light bulb icon) adds blue to the photo to compensate. Regular (tungsten) light bulbs give off an orange tint, so this is a good setting to use indoors when photographing under incandescent lights.
3. If your picture has greenish tint in it, use Fluorescent setting (usually a fluorescent bulb icon) which adds magenta into the photo to compensate for the green tint given off by most fluorescent light bulbs. Use this setting indoors under fluorescent lights.
4. If your photo has Blue tint, the Cloudy setting (usually a cloud icon) warms the photo up by adding orange to compensate for the blue tint given off by clouds. Use this setting when photographing outdoors in cloudy or overcast situations.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Which camera is better for concerts?

Compact Cameras:
If you don't have a pressing need for photos, my advice is to enjoy the concert instead of trying to taking photos or trying to shoot videos.
Shooting in a concert a tough battle for most people. Your enemies are too powerful LOL
* First, shooting in concert is always a challenge. Fast moving objects and flashy light.
* Most fixed lens cameras have tiny sensors which will fail to capture sufficient light to capture clear images.
* Many times we have seats far back so the camera will get even less light than someone in the front seats.
* Sometime we think a 36x optical zoom would be useful but if you zoom in, the shutter will be even slower and because of zoom, any small shake in your hand will be magnified.

So why not enjoy the concert and if needed, take a photo or two with your phone. However if you are determined to try and if there is good light, you may be in some luck. Here are some tips to get the best with your point and shoot compact camera.
* See if you can take along a tripod. If you are zooming in, a tripod can give you much needed stability for recording.
* It may sound tempting but try to avoid too much zooming in.
* Also try to shoot in 720p or lower instead of full HD like 1080p.
* Also if you can control fps, try to keep it as minimum as possible.
* Try to bring along a camera that has as big of a sensor as possible.
* A camera that has smaller F or f number will also work better than cameras with higher F/f numbers.
Good luck.

SLR cameras or Cameras with larger sensor:

Even most SLRs have tough time shooting in concerts. Said that there are few alternatives. If you can buy a Full Frame advanced Nikon or Canon camera that costs $2000 or more, and can buy some expensive lens, you will have better odds for good photos. Now with such big professional cameras, you are more likely to be stopped at the gate and told to leave the camera behind because most concerts don't allow shooting with professional gear.
Now here is a one cheap alternative that I have recently started using.
* I am going to recommend you a camera provided you like its style. However the style is not that bad and as such it can work to your advantage. Most concerts don't allow Professional cameras but this 'weird looking' camera can often be looked on as some toy or some old camera. It will have better odds of being allowed in. (There is another benefit with its boxy style. When I have T3i in my hand, my subjects become too serious seeing an SLR but with my boxy camera, I am able to take more candid shots.)
* I am talking about Pentax K-01. I have not seen any sub-$1000 camera do as good job in low light or with ISO as high as 3200 as Pentax K-01. It is currently selling for only $360 on Amazon. This camera used to be around $900 but Pentax's gamble with styling backfired and now they are clearing them out. This is a monster when it comes to image quality and low light shooting.…
* The kit lens on K-01 itself is worth $200.The other benefit is that with Pentax, you can easily use old cheap lenses like Super Takumar 135mm F2.5 which works awesome in concerts and games. It is a manual lens but unlike Nikon or Canon, Pentax K-01 offers AutoZoom with manual focus and Focus-peaking which comes pretty handy with manual focusing.
* On a cloudy day, I was shooting with K-01 and a 30 year old Super Takumar F1.4 lens and my friend was shooting with his Nikon, we compared photos from both cameras. Within a week, my friend bought K-01 and is now looking for Takumar lenses too. Here is a photo of her daughter with this $450 combo of Pentax and Takumar:…

* For video taping, Pentax does a nice job too. 1080p. Search on YouTube for Takumar 50mm and you will see that many serious minded SLR owners buy Takumar to take professional grade videos.

I will post links to some videos I have taken with this combination. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Video Recording With A DSLR- Is it worth it?

This is a million dollar question: Why should I use my SLR for HD Video? If you search online, you will come across conflicting opinions and misleading reviews. You will get confused in the end. On this page I am going to tell you in a few minutes what you really need to know about video recording with various types of cameras and camcorders and I will also provide you some tips on how to take professional looking HD videos with a DSLR.

When it comes to video recording, you really have 4 options: Use your smartphone, use a compact point and shoot camera, use a camcorder or use a digital SLR. Let us look at pros and cons for each one of them.

Videos with Smartphones:
The biggest benefit with using a smartphone like an iPhone or an Android phone is the convenience and ease of use. You have your iPhone or Android phone all the time. Take your smartphone out of your pocket and press a button or two and you are in business. Now if you are watching your iPhone videos on your iPhone, I am sure you will be happy with the recording. If the light is good, your smartphone camera will do a good job. Plus, the screen on most smartphones is so bright and optimized, your videos will look nicer on that tiny 4 inch screen. If you download to your PC or upload it on Youtube, probably you will not be that happy with the quality. Also try using your smartphone in dull light and you can get frustrated. In dull or low light, most smartphone are almost unusable for video recording.
In short, in good daylight or for situations where we really don't need to have very high quality videos, your smartphone is an excellent and very handy tool to capture videos.

Videos with Compact Cameras:
How does a camera compare to a smartphone with regards to video quality? Not much difference as such. In low light, you camera may do a bit better than a smartphone though. Most smartphones don't have any zoom but most cameras have. So a camera can help you zoom in and take close up videos. However there are two important things. Try to avoid zooming in or out while you are recording. This can add some noise in your recording plus focusing issues can ruin your video. Also, if you zoom in too much, the shake can become too obvious so a tripod is recommended to avoid any shake.

Smartphones and compact cameras have tiny lenses. This is an advantage as well as a limitation when it comes video recording. The limitation is that they are too small so they can't take much light in. Hence in low or dull light, they are not able to take sharp videos. Now the advantage is that they keep everything in focus so you really don't have to worry much about focusing while you are recording with your iPhone. They will always come out well. On the other end, if you compare your videos with professionally taken videos, you will notice that smartphone videos are flat and boring. You can't get any background blur or can have subject stand out in the videos.
Let us not forget that many times we want to capture precious moments or some events in our videos. This is mostly for personal use or for sharing with friends and families. Content here is more critical and if think your camera is doing a good job, you are all set IMO.

Videos with HD Camcorders or pocket cams like Sony Bloggie or FlipHD.
We don't see many video camcorders these days after iPhone and other smartphones started offering video recording. As they are dedicated video recorders, they do a bit better job but their quality is not much different. Everything always in focus. Flat videos.

Now you can buy expensive Canon, JVS or Sony HD camcorders for videos. They offer stunning 30-50x zoom with very useful shake reduction. Naturally, their videos will be better than videos taken with any smartphone or any compact digital camera. The drawback is they are bulky and not much convenient. You don't get much improvement in quality too unless you are spending $4000 upwards. With most consumer camcorders, you really can't keep certain things in focus and other things blurred. Unless if you have noticed, most HD camcorder videos are plain and boring. If you are fine with this, they can be a good choice for you. You can find some good ones around $200-$500 range.

For most of people, a smartphone or a compact camera is enough for capturing videos. However if you like to capture long videos or if you are a person who prefers video recording to photo shooting, a dedicated camcorder is a good choice.

Video Recording with DSLR
Now if you like to get paid with Likes on Facebook, Thumbs up on YouTube or real money for your videos, a DSLR can be a good choice compared to some expensive professional gear. With a DSLR, you can control the depth of field and achieve movie-like, professional videography feel. See the ability to control focus in this video I shot at my son' school
Compared to a phone or a P&S camera, a DSLR will do a better job at recording videos in most situations. As they have bigger sensors and lenses, they are able to capture light quickly and can offer some capabilities for selective focusing too. With selective focusing, you have to be careful about focusing capabilities of your camera and also your skills. If it is not focused properly, your videos can sometimes be worse than an iPhone video!
Most older DSLRs and many new ones too don't auto focus during video recording. SLR cameras normally use phase-detection for focusing during photos but this can't be used for videos (because of the mirror which needs to be flipped for focusing). Now some DSLRs offer contrast based focusing in video which is not that accurate but it does work. You can bypass this limitation with a mirror-less camera like Panasonic G or GF series which can auto focus.

What makes a movie or documentary video recording better than our video recording? It is mainly the background blurring. I mean selective focusing where only subject is in focus to grab all of your attention. There is no other distraction in the frame. With SLR, this is possible because of large sensors and bigger (I mean wide aperture) lenses. However most kit lenses have f number 3.5 or higher. They really don't open much so it is difficult to be able to get selective focusing. So if you want to take HD as well as HQ (High Quality) videos, you will need some fast lenses. These are the lenses with F1.8 or F1.4. With such lenses,  you can really see the advantages offered by DSLRs for video recording. Now this advantage comes with one responsibility. Focusing becomes very very critical. This is the reason many professional photographers use manual focusing. Many serious Canon users use Canon full frame cameras with some wide aperture, fast lenses.Search for Super Takumar F1.4 videos with Canon on the Internet and you will know how good job DSLRs can do when it comes to video recording.

Why use Manual focus while shooting video?
Now as DSLRs offer us nice focusing and background blurring, there comes one problem. Many people get annoyed when they hear that camera does not AF during video. However you shouldn't want your camera to auto focus because you want to decide where to focus. In a scene with say 3 people, you want to focus on the person who is speaking but the AF in the camera may decide to focus on the quiet person instead!! This will be a disaster. AF is fine with video recording with compact cameras or camcorders because they keep most of the scene in focus! With SLR, you can get a movie like effect with very selective focusing. Most movies or documentaries are shot with Manual focusing.
Many of professionals specifically use Manual lenses with manual focus and one favorite is Super Takumar 50mm F1.4 lens.
Here are some benefits of using manual focusing during video recording with DSLRs.
  1. Motors of auto-focus lenses create some hissing sound during focusing which can create bad audio in your recording. 
  2. The Autofocus may not work in low light and the focusing motor may keep trying ruining your recording. Also there are times when AF doesn't focus correctly. 
  3. Auto focus as name mentions auto-focuses so if you want to have only person A in focus out of a group of 5 people, you really can't do it on the fly. If want to focus only specific area while shooting video, you can't do it unless you manually focus for it. 
  4. Also, most auto focus lenses don't let you change aperture on the fly to control depth of field. Old lenses like, Super Takumar, let you control focus, aperture very smoothly.

I am not an expert but here is one video I recorded in low indoor light with Panasonic GF3 and a Super Takumar lens. I am still learning manual focus so please bear with me. However I am sure this group of 6 year old kids running/traveling with the ball will not fail to entertain you. If you are short on budget but want to take nice videos, you can buy a Pentax K-01 body for around $300. Buy a Super Takumar M42 lens for around $100 with an adapter for Pentax. Once you get hold of the manual focusing, you will be amazed how beautiful videos you can take with a DSLR compared to compact cameras or most consumer SLRs with kit lens. Even with those HD camcorders.
Super Takumar 50mm lens is around 40 years old M42 screwmount lens. I used it often on Pentax and Panasonic mirrorless cameras. Here is one video I recorded:
Some of my photos are also taken with this lens on Olympus or Pentax body

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Manual Focus vs AutoFocus

We are all so much used to Auto Focus that is an indispensable part of our photography. These days, I am using more manual focus lenses than using the auto-focus of the camera. Part of the reason is with mirrorless cameras, it is very easy to old manual lenses which have superb image sharpness, bokeh but lenses are available for  much less. My favorites are Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4, Chinon 55mm f1.7.
Why use Manual focus lenses on a modern camera?
* With adapters available for any using any lens on almost any camera body, you can easily use any old manual focus lens on your camera. On eBay, some sellers from Asia sell many adapters for around 2-10 dollars!
* Old manual focus lenses some of them are very fast are available for 1/3 of what an AF lens will cost today.
* Most modern cameras offer focus peaking or auto enlarge which make it pretty easy to focus. Pentax K-01 is my favorite.
* Many cameras like Olympus and Pentax have image stabilization built into camera body, so you get same image stabilization with those old lenses too.
* Though AF is very useful, in certain situation where the object is  moving fast, unless you have an expensive lens, most probably you will miss the shot. With use of Manual Focus, you can preplan the arrival at some point and adjust focus for that. Then when the subject hits that spot, just press the button fully. No need to press half-way for the AF to focus and when AF is done, the subject might have already moved on.
* Sure, AF is fast and convenient but sometimes it is a hit and miss. I took a photo of the Sigma 30mm AF lens with a Manual focus Chinon lens on my Panasonic GF3 camera. I was able to manually focus on the lens blurring the box. It worked. Then I put the Sigma 30mm lens to take photo of my Panasonic FZ22. I use auto-focus. I thought it worked fine but when I downloaded the photos to my computer, I noticed that it instead had focused on the box!

Compare the background blur and bokeh with manual focus fast lens vs AF Sigma!
(You guessed it right. I am trying to move these camera and lenses to some new hands where they can be used more often)

Want to take a look of a pack of old screw mount lenses that I bought on Craigslist recently. 10 or so lenses for $170? Sold one Takumar that I got for $95 so I am left with 9 lenses for $75! The Chinon is one of them!!