Monday, April 15, 2013

Underexpose Your Indoor or Low-light Photos- A Better Photography Tip.

Many times in low light or for indoor photos, your compact camera or your kit lens on SLR may not take nice sharp photos. It is not your camera's fault. It happens because light is low so to get enough light in, camera has to keep the shutter open for longer time (slow shutter speed). Most cameras have lenses which don't open much wide open beyond their hardware limitation so Aperture/lens opening is not much of an alternative. So camera has two things to play around with.
1) Either keep the shutter open for longer time or increase ISO. Higher ISO can result in noisy image. Most compact cameras have distinct noise for ISO higher than 400. For ISO above 1600, most images are unuable. However if you really want to capture a photo, this ISO can come handy.
2) If shutter is kept slow so enough light can get in, this can result in camera shake in your hands or the subject in front of you can move too. This results in blurry or shaky image. Normally any shutter speed slower than 1/75 second can result in blurry image.
One more solution in such situation is to use Exposure Compensation and tell your camera that it is okay to take in a little less light. This will cause your photo to be a bit darker but camera will be able to use a bit faster shutter speed or a lower ISO. A bit darker photo then can easily be fixed in Picasa or any image editor software.
Underexpose your photos to -1/3 value or if in dark, you can even try with -2/3.
How to take underexposed photos:
* Take a bit underexposed photos. For indoor and in low light (and many times outdoor too), I use EV (Exposure Value) Compensation on the camera.
This is the button with +/- sign on it.
 I mostly keep it set at -1/3 value. Click on this button on the camera:

Then move the scrolling button or left and right arrow to set the value to -1/3 as shown in image here.

What is the benefit of doing this?
This setting tells your camera that it is okay to have a little bit darker image. This helps camera to take in less light so camera a can use a little lower ISO or a bit faster shutter speed. This causes the image to be a bit less noisy or it reduces camera’s shake or movement of the subject a bit lower as camera shutter speed is likely to be faster.
The drawback is a bit darker image. When I move such photos to my camera, I make the photo a bit brighter in Picasa.

The other logic behind this is that an underexposed photo (a dark photo) can be easier to fix in post-processing on the computer than an overexposed photo. In an over-exposed photo, if some detail is lost, sometimes you can’t bring it in but if the photo is under-exposed, you can probably add some light and make it look better.

Remember one more thing. We are talking about low light or indoor photos. As you might have read in earlier posts, one good alternative is to add some artificial light or use camera flash. Your camera will love this and with more light around, it will be able to take better photos easily. If with flash, the face is washed out, as it often happens with compact cameras, you can use the same Exposure Compensation and ask camera to take less light in. This will avoid washed out photos in flash photography too.

Enjoy your camera. Actually, your camera can take better photos even in tough light if you are willing to help it a bit.

Which one a good camera for video- Sony SLT-A57 or Canon 650D?

Which one a good camera for video- Sony SLT-A57 or Canon 650D?
I prefer Sony STL A57. It has much better auto focus abilities. Plus, Sony has lot of expertize in the video area.

Update: If you want to buy SLT A57, BH Photo has a great deal for $499!!…

****For 650D, as per DPReview:
While the results of these changes show noticeable improvement over the EOS 600D, AF in video mode is, unfortunately, still slow. In our time spent using the camera, we've not been able to reliably maintain focus on objects moving to or away from the camera at even a moderate walking pace. As it stands it's hard to envision situations in which continuous AF that is this slow has any practical benefits for tracking moving subjects. As with the EOS 600D, we still recommend shooting video in manual focus, or at the very least pre-focusing the lens with a half-shutter button press before you start recording.

*** For A57:…
Full manual control of shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation is possible when shooting video but there are some restrictions. You can only take manual exposure control in the A57's dedicated movie exposure mode (found on the main exposure mode dial), and this is incompatible with AF. If you want to take advantage of the A57's full-time AF during video, you'll have to shoot in program AE mode, at which point the camera will not select an aperture smaller than the lens' maximum (or f/3.5, in lenses with a maximum aperture greater than f/4). This simply reflects the fact that the AF system will stop working if the aperture is stopped-down smaller than f/5.6.

Speaking of AF, Sony's phase-detection AF implementation in current Alpha models is easily one of the best performing systems we've encountered on any stills camera. Focus acquisition is quick though not silent, object tracking is easy to employ while recording and works reasonably well across a central area of the frame. As you'll see in the video samples that follow, focus hunting rarely becomes a distraction during clips.

Pressing the Movie button when shooting in one of the PASM modes on the A57 will begin recording video in program AE mode, with AF operating continuously. AF can be locked temporarily by holding the AEL button (assuming it is so assigned in the custom menu), while ISO, AF area and object tracking can all be adjusted during recording. A digital wind cut filter can also be enabled.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Buying a camera? Forget Nikon vs Canon battle! Buy the best Camera Hardware you can afford.

In any camera purchase, there are two very important important considerations which most of us forget about while deciding over Nikon or Canon, or a compact camera or a dSLR!

Every digital camera is a small computer- some hardware and some software. While buying a computer, we mainly focus on hardware (CPU speed, memory, graphic card etc) and software (operating system, browser, word processing, etc.) comes next. Same logic can be applied in choosing a camera.

Camera Hardware
First, look for the best hardware that you can buy with your budgeted money. I am not asking you to spend $2000 and buy a full frame camera like Canon Mark II which has best sensor and camera body! I am asking you to look at the hardware of the camera models you are considering and choose the one that has best sensor and lens. Besides its build quality, look and feel, the most important parts in a digital camera are- Sensor (type and size) and lens.

Camera Sensor:
Prefer a camera that has better/bigger sensor. The larger the sensor, the image quality will be generally better. In many situations, you will not see the benefit of it but as you get into low light situations or fast moving objects, a bigger sensor can take you few steps ahead of others. 

Most compact cameras have small tiny sensors normally 1 /2.5”. Expensive compact cameras are likely to have bigger sensors which range from 1 /1.8” to 1/1.6”

As you can see, a dSLR has 13 times bigger sensor compared to a compact camera. The bigger the sensor, the camera will be able to take better photos for you. Also, newer camera models have better sensor technologies. They are more sensitive to light and are able to take relatively better photos compared to older sensors. In good light, this does not make difference but in low light, it does.

Camera Lens:

The bigger the lens, the better job your camera will do. How do you know a lens is a good lens? It is difficult. Most camera specs or online reviews rarely talk about lens. Look for the numbers on the lens. There will be generally two sets of numbers as shown in the picture below.

#1- This number shows how wide the lens opens. You can call it aperture number. It starts with ‘1:’ or sometimes with f or F. The smaller the numbers after ‘1:’ or f/F, the better the lens will perform in most situations.  1:2.8 (often mentioned as f/2.8) takes in more light than 1:4. A camera with 1:1.8 will normally cost twice as much as a camera with a lens that has 1:2.8 but will let roughly 4 times more light during same amount of time.

#2- This is the focal length, or range of focal length, of the lens. The bigger the numbers, the better it will be. Normally bigger numbers imply bigger sensor inside the camera. Please remember the weight on the word Normally in the sentence. Some camera manufacturers put these numbers as 35mm equivalent. Be suspicious if your compact camera has starting number bigger than 20!

Focal length is the distance between lens and camera sensor.

Now how to make sense between these two numbers. In example able, for a focal length 4.8mm, if it is f/2.8, it means that at this setting, the lens will open 1.74mm! If you take a photo without zooming and say the camera uses f/8 aperture, in simple language, this means that camera will open the lens 0.6mm!!! Do you know how tiny that number is? Can you imagine how much light can go through that tiny whole particularly when you are shooting in low light?

I often use a 50mm Super Takumar f/1.4 lens on Pentax APS-C (Digital or Mirrorless cameras). Btw, this is a 40 year old lens but try to hold it in a hand and you will see how much we are losing in terms of mass production in this plastic age! So when I shoot with 50mm and 1.4 aperture value, the lens opens staggering 36mm!!! Compare that to the 1.74mm the lens opens maximum for the compact camera that I was refering above.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Types of Cameras- Pros and Cons

A million dollar question for most of us. In my opinion, most of us have unnecessarily made it a million dollar question. In reality, it shouldn't be. Canon or Nikon- they start wars among their fans. Sony lovers will swear by Sony and so will Pentax lovers. Having used verity of cameras, I can say that most modern day cameras are very capable. Most of us spend hours and days in deciding which camera to buy and we read variety of reviews to justify our purchase but the unfortunate fact is that that most of us don't even use 20% of the features/capabilities most modern cameras offer. I am serious. A reviewer may say Nikon 5100 is horrible or Canon T4i sucks but it is possible he may be using the camera in low light or only in Auto mode. Most cameras fail in low light. Unless you take over and learn to use camera properly, you may get disappointed with any camera. Now if you mostly shoot in good natural light, a $100 camera will please you and you would find instances when your camera takes better landscape photos than an expensive Canon Mark II. Besides a camera, the light is one thing that crucially determines the quality of your photos. If you have light on your side, any camera will work. If you don't have enough light, more expensive cameras will do better as light level goes down.
Let me give  you some tips so you can decide what kind of camera is right for you.

These days digital cameras are grouped based on the size:
1)      Sub-compact, or Ultra-compact cameras- very easy to carry around, can be easily carried in most pockets. Have 3-5x optical zoom lens. Very easy to carry around and use.
2)      Compact cameras- Slightly bigger than Sub-compact cameras. Better lens and better cameras. Have up to 10x optical zoom lens. Still easy to carry but you really need bigger pockets if you want to keep in a pocket. Portability and easy of use are main benefits. They are generally better than sub-compact cameras.
3)      Mega Zoom cameras- Not sure you can still call them compacts but they have optical zoom from 15x to up to 40x. They are more versatile and generally have better sensors and optics than compact and sub-compact cameras. These cameras can be used in wide range of situations as you can take wide angle indoor photos as well use zoom in to capture wild life, birds, far-away photos or to take photos of the top of a hill or only part of a building. These cameras are very useful travel cameras.
4)      Hybrid or Mirror less interchangeable lens cameras. They are usually small in size but have capabilities of bulky SLR camera. They take better photos but size is still not as big as SLRs. These days you can buy tiny lenses too like Panasonic PZ series. These cameras work much better in indoor or in low light. However they are a bit inconvenient as you have to change lenses if you want to use in wide range of situations. They are however a good compromize between dSLR and fixed lens compact cameras.
5)      SLR Cameras- Big in size because of a mirror and large sized sensor inside. Normally, they do better job compared to compact digital cameras.

So ask yourself if camera size really matters for you. If yes, what size of camera you would like to carry around.

Real factor in deciding which camera to buy in my opinion is how much you want to learn and help your camera so you have better photos most of the time. You can use a camera only in AUTO mode and your camera will take nice photos 60-70% of the time but other times, the photos may frustrate you. This is a reality if you don't want to use your brain and rely solely on camera. Now if you want to take better photos most of the time, there will be times when you will have to help your camera a little bit. You don't need to take photography classes or read thick books. You just need to learn basic stuff to help your camera take better photos. So in my opinion, it comes down to how much you want to control on your camera and help it out when it struggles to take a nice photo. Keeping this in mind, I like to divide cameras in to different groups based on flexibility in shooting or access to change settings.
1.      Auto-Only Cameras (AOC): These are normally tiny sub-compact or phone cameras. They have few options or buttons. Many have only shutter release button and a button for photo preview or viewing.
This type of cameras, like all other cameras, have their own mind but they don’t let you mess with them. You have to take what they capture. You can’t do much if you don’t like a photo it took.
Recommendation: Avoid these cameras if you want to be able to take better photos. If you don’t like this advice, please stop reading this book and use your time somewhere else.
2.      Semi-Flexible Cameras (SFC): These cameras have all the functionality of an Auto-only camera but beyond that, they also have Scene Modes, Exposure Control, Time buttons etc. These cameras give you options to change exposure with Exposure Compensation but they don’t let you choose Aperture, Shutter speed and/or ISO.
With these cameras, you do benefit from Camera’s brain and capabilities but you can also help Camera by telling it about the photo that it is going to capture. You can use the Scene Modes to set it to Landscape, Portrait, Beach-Snow, Macro mode etc. You can set the mode to Sports/or Fast Moving Object, and tell camera that we are shooting a soccer game in which kids are moving faster. This helps camera’s brain to set shutter fast enough to avoid blur. Or, by setting camera to Portrait mode, you are telling many things to the Camera that you need the subject to stand out vs background, that nice skin tones are important, that the person is not moving as fast as a kid playing some sport. This helps a big way to camera to use its capabilities for the specific situation it is taking photo in. So in this collaboration mode, between human and machine, the picture quality improves significantly.
Recommendation: If possible, try to buy a camera in this category. If the camera didn’t take a good photo, at least, there is something you can try to take a better photo in the next shot.
3.      Flexible Cameras (FC): The cameras that fall in this category are flexible. You can use them in fully Auto mode, in Scene mode or in fully Manual mode where you can choose the Aperture value, or Shutter speed and/or ISO. You have full freedom to tell the camera what settings to use. These cameras have Av, Tv, S, M modes where can set various values. When used in Manual mode, camera doesn’t need to use its intelligence in guessing what is in front of the lens. It simply opens up the shutter for the time you want it to open, to open the lens as wide or as narrow as you want and when Shutter Release button is pressed, it simple captures the light on the sensor and give you a photo.
Now with FC cameras, you can do anything but now it is a sort of war between man and machine. The machine has brain of several engineers and photographers behind it. It has lot of logic and expertize programmed into it. Man, I mean you, on the other hand, is probably still learning. One day, you can sure do better than the machine but in the beginning, aperture values and shutter speed adjustments can ruin many of your photos. You have to pay your price before you get better than the camera.
4.       Fully-Flexible Cameras: These cameras, not only offer you full control over the functionality but you can also add more hardware on it. You can change the lens on the camera, or use an external flash unit. You can do auto trigger on it or you can also add an external mic for better sound recording. This type of cameras are for serious hobbyists or professionals.
So what type of camera should you buy? It depends on how deep your pocket is and how serious you are to take better photos. In low light and in some extreme situations, an expensive or bulky camera does help you. However for most day-to-day shooting, you should be fine with SFC cameras.
Summary:  If you are just the AUTO button loving person, buy any camera that has minimum buttons. Pick something that is rated well by other users. If you like to take over camera function sometimes, buy an SFC or FC camera. If you want the full control but don't want to go for a bulky camera, go for an FC camera. Now if you are serious about photography, you should go for FFCs. Many times, what some lenses can do can never be done just aby and AOC, SFC or FC camera.
To get the most out of your camera, I would recommend you to buy one that has at least all of the following options. This will improve odds for better photos significantly. 
·         Ability to set Picture or Scene Mode:  This will let you tell your camera what kind of picture is being taken. Is it a Landscape, a Portrait, a Sports or moving object photo or is a, Night Scenery. The more options the camera has the better.
·         Timer: Most cameras these days have it. This is a very useful feature.
·         Exposure Compensation: 
·         Multiple Shots (rapid fire shots)
·         Flash:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Video comparison- Compact Camera vs SLR/Mirrorless

These days we use our cameras to take videos too. Most compact cameras do good job with video too provided the light is good. However in low light, most of the sub$400 compact cameras will frustrate us. In low light, video will be very grainy.
I had a chance few days back to shoot video with a regular compact camera sensor as well as with a SLR like Mirrorless camera (with APS-C sized sensor).

Here is the video that I shot with a Sony Bloggie (actually supposed to be a bit better than most compact cameras when it comes to recording HD video because Bloggy is made from video recording perspective.)

I also had a larger sensor Pentax K-01 handy and as you can see, because of a larger sensor and with abilitiy to take better photos even at higher sensitivity, it did a decent job in same light conditions.

(sorry, the songs are in Hindi/Indian language)