Thursday, June 27, 2013

Learn this simple button- EV compensation/ Exposure Bias

Many times when you take photos, they come out dark and people's face are also too dark (especially on a beach or in snow) or sometimes faces get washed out (particularly when background is a bit darker).

Camera is a machine and many times, it doesn't understand what is in front of the lens. It is programmed (particularly in AUTO mode) to take say x amount of light (light is measured in Lumen but it is hard to interpret). So on a beach when everything is too bright, camera tries to take in x amount of light but that is too less to properly expose human faces. That is the reason we look darker on a beach, on snow or on a bright day. Opposite happens in evenings or in dull light. Camera tries to take in x amount of light but that exposes the faces too much causing people in the photo to be washed out.

Probably you are not aware but somewhere on your camera, you will see this icon or a button with + and - minus sign as shown below. It is called EV (Exposure Value) button or Exposure Compensation button.
Please note that some cameras don't allow EV compensation in AUTO mode. If this is the case, hopefully, your camera has P (Program) mode and you can use it with EV compensation.
Sometimes it is also referred to as Exposure Bias. Click on it and it will open up a scale or a value on your LCD.

You will see a number with + or - sign or a scale which has a value bar with values from -3 to +3 or -2 to +2 as shown below. Which scrolling button or with directional control buttons on your camera, you will be able to select any plus or minus values.

So what is the big deal about this?
By selecting a value here, you can tell your camera to take in more light or less light! This can come very handy to brighten up those dark faces or make those washed out faces more pleasant!!
To tell camera to take in more light, select any positive value. Don't rush to select too high of a value because that can wash out the whole photo! Start with +.3 or +.7 and camera will take in 30 to 70% more light. This can help get people nicely exposed in your photos.
To tell camera to take in less light, move the slider/value in the other direction. Start with -.3 and your camera with take in 30% less light!

To show this with some images, I shot the moon in the sky with my camera with different EV values or Exposure bias. With 4 different images, I can pick the one that comes out better. Probably I could have take photos of people on beach to show this more effectively. However with these photos of the Moon, you can see how camera takes in less light with my pressing of the EV button!
Luckily my Pentax K-01 took the right exposure in the AUTO mode but take out your camera tonight and try to take a photo of the Moon in Auto mode. Mostly it will be washed out. Then start with negative EV values and at some value,  you will have a nice capture of the Moon!
It is not the camera that always takes good photos! Many times it is a little help from the cameraman that helps camera take a nice photo.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Which is a great DSLR buy these days? It is Pentax K-01 or Canon EOS-M, for most of us

Having used several DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, I can say Pentax K-01 is a great camera- one of the best image quality out then in below $1000 cameras. Pentax used to sell for around $900 but their gamble with the style backfired so they are clearing them out. They currently sell for around $400 with a nice 40mm 2.8 lens.
Similarly, Canon was too late to enter the mirrorless camera world. They came in with Canon EOS-M with full APS-C sized sensor and started selling it for around $700. They put the fastest kit lens on this EOS-M camera compared to lens on any sub $1000 canon SLR. It comes with 22mm F2.0 lens!! This camera has same sensor and technology as Canon T4i but in much smaller body. This actually works very well for shooting HD video than most consumer Canon DSLRs. As of this writing (July 5, 2013), Amazon is selling Canon EOS-M for $299!!! Really a steal if you are buying it for less than $400. Let me tell you one major problem though! It does not come with flash! This can be a deal breaker for many and that is why I think Pentax K-01 can be a better deal for most of us.
Very shortly, both cameras are likely to be selling for around $500 or more. If that is the case, look for Used cameras too. Under $350, each of these cameras are great deals IMO.

Canon EOS-m or Pentax K-01

Check Canon EOS-M prices on Amazon.

Click on the link above and read the reviews yourself. Or see the summary here.
First, bad about this camera:
  • Lack of optical viewfinder- if you actively use viewfinder, this camera is not for you. LCD works fine for shooting but once in a while, in some bright sunlight, you will miss a viewfinder.
  • Orthodox style of Pentax k-01- see if you like the style. It is not bad as such. I see this style as an advantage. Most of my subjects don't take me seriously with this camera in my hand. They think this is a toy or some fun camera and I get candid photos. When I used to shoot with black bulky SLRs, mostly my subjects will become too serious or too conscious.
  • Flashy Yellow color- it is a bright nice color but if you don't like it, it comes in black and white color too.
  • Slow Auto-focus. Out of the box, the camera's AF system is slow but with firmware upgrade, it is comparable to most DSLRs. Howeve in plain contrast-less situations, like many other DSLRs, this one still struggles with AF. I immediately change to Manual focus mode and with focus peaking and Auto-zoom of the image on my screen, my workaround works very well.
Now the good about the camera:
  • The image quality is excellent. I have not seen such good image quality in any camera I have used so far which includes Canon T3i and Panasonic/Olymplus mirrorless m4/3 cameras.
  • With included 40mm lens, you can take impressive portraits and low light photos. If you like to take photos of people, this lens works out very well. In consumer grade DSLRs, Pentax K-01 has the best lens out there. Period.
  • If you like to take landscapes, the HDR mode does wonders. Easy to use and brings in details in shadows and highlight does not get clipped either.
  • With same K mount, in body Image Stabilization, and now Focus Peaking, using my Super Takumar 50mm 1.4 lens is easy and it helps get accurate focusing. K-01 body and Super Takumar lens (with combined cost of less than $400) help me take portrait photos that can compare very well with full frame $2000 plus DSLRs. 
  • Takes HD Video but use Super Takumar above in manual mode with wide aperture for video and you will love the quality and background blurr in videos.
  • This camera is compact and its odd look lets you take candid photos of people. Bulky SLRs many times make people too serious while being photographed but with box type camera, your subjects are less likely to take you seriously but when you show them the photos, they will be amazed.
Very likely, in 10 years, this camera will sell for more than what you are paying today. This is my humble opinion and don't base your purchase decision on it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why is my new digital camera so slow?

Many times, you buy a new Nikon, Canon or Sony camera and also buy an expensive class 10 memory card to make sure your camera can take faster photos. Then you see your camera take 5 or more seconds to save one photo and you start doubting your camera! Probably there is nothing wrong with your camera. The new cameras have faster processors. However manufacturers are adding more and more features in new cameras.
Nikons have smile detection, blink prevention. Sony cameras have background blurring and HDR in the AUTO mode. These are just some examples. Modern day cameras are so features-rich, sometimes we have to sacrifice certain other things. We have to bear with slower speed. That doesn't mean Sony or Nikon cameras are slow or have slow processors.
Sony camera models like DSC-HX10V offer background blurr where actually two or more photos are taken and they are combined to give you SLR like background blurr (bokeh). This can cause you to wait for 5 seconds. If waiting bothers you, turn this off if your camera has it.

Background Defocus

DSLR photographs are often beautiful because they blur the background, putting the emphasis on the subject. Now our point-and-shoot cameras can deliver this signature DSLR benefit. The system takes two shots, identifies the background and applies a defocused background keeping the subject crisp and clear.

Superior Auto mode
Get cleaner, more dynamic pictures and fewer missed shots. The DSC-HX10V automatically recognizes the correct scene mode, then quickly shoots and combines up to six shots to produce images with greater clarity, optimum dynamic range using backlight correction HDR technology and lower image noise using 6 shots layering technology. Superior Auto intelligently detects 33 scenes for still images and movies, making it easy to get the best shot. 

So instead of worrying about slower camera speed, you should look at what the camera is doing for you. If the slower speed bothers you, look into your camera menu and disable such features. You will note significant improvement in picture taking speed.

Also, to get better out of your memory card, format it within a camera. This way, the camera will optimize cluster size, allocation block size etc to get you optimum storage capacity and speed.

One more thing that effects camera's processing. It you are taking photos indoor or in dull light, sometime camera has to keep the shutter open too long. That can affect the speed of your camera.

Last, but no the least, if you have a 20MP camera, you don't need to take every photo in 10MP mode!
Read this article about how many MP you really need for most of your photos:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why is my iPhone or iPod not taking good photos?

Many people love their iPod, iPad, iPhone or any smartphone as such, for the nice photos it takes. It is true that in good light and in outdoor bright places, these instruments take nice photos. Also, they have very optimized display so even an okay photo will look bright and nice on any smartphone or on iPod/iPad. However in many situations, iPod or any camera as such will run into its hardware restriction. Because of its sensor's size and size/quality of lens, iPod/any smartphone can't work well in certain lighting situations. However if you are willing to help, you can still have better photos in some situations where your smartphone alone simply fails.

Here are certain things YOU can do to improve your photos in low light:

1) Shoot in good light. Avoid shooting in low light, indoor or in dark places. Outdoor and in well-lit places, your iPod will take nice photos but when light gets low, its tiny sensor and tiny lens can't take in enough light in 1/50 seconds which is required to take nice photos of people or moving objects.
2) In low light or  indoors, if possible, turn on artificial light. If you are in a room, turn on lights or use flash lights. If there is a flash on iPod, use it.
3) If you are shooting stationary items or very slow moving objects, put your iPod on some steady surface (instead of holding in hand) and that can eliminate blur in your photos.
4) Also, you can enhance photos with Picasa or similar software to some extent. There are many such software out there.
5) Not sure what kind of manual controls, iPod offers. If my iPhone5 is any clue, you can't do any thing to control iso, aperture or shutter speed. So except about tips, there isn't much you can do with your iPod.
You might like my blog where I write about such stuff.