Saturday, May 31, 2014

Taking photos against the Sun? Here are some tips to work around the situation.

Ask anyone and most people say that you keep the Sun on your back to take good photos. That is true because the Sun can brighten up the subject so you can take nicely exposed bright photos. However sometimes it is not possible. You can not move the Sun, right? And many times it is not possible for us to move to bring the Sun behind us. What do you do in such situations? Many of us will blame the situation, or the camera.
I had a similar situation when I visited Disneyland in California a few days ago. I was in the Tomorrowland and wanted to take a photo of the top of the Rocket ride while standing in a line for some other ride. Top of the Rocket ride looked nice but it was too dark because the Sun was also in the same direction.
Here is how I handled the situation. I took a photo in the Auto mode with my Olympus E-PM2 camera.  I let the camera do the metering and do whatever it thought right. I knew the photo will not be good.
As you can see, the subject came out very dark. I can't blame the camera or the Sun for this! So I decided to help my camera. By looking at the photo, you can see that the subject/the structure I was shooting was dark. In other words, very much underexposed. So I needed to tell the camera to take much more light in. I was more interested in the subject. I really didn't care if the sky gets washed out. So I clicked on the Exposure Compensation button on my E-PM2. Changed the value to +2 and took a new photo.

Now see the photo below. It was much better than the photo in the AUTO mode. The sky is washed out but
As I have often said on this blog, any camera can do a good job if you are willing to help it in difficult/tricky situations.
There are times when we need to ask camera to take in less light. One case that comes to my mind is when you want to take photos of full Moon. Most cameras do not take good photos of the Moon in AUTO mode but you can move the EV value to -2 (or try with different negative numbers) and you can take nice photos of the Moon. Click on this link to my earlier post about it:

Tomorrowland in Disneyland

Friday, May 2, 2014

Which camera to buy? A Point and Shoot or a DSLR? Which SLR? Canon or Nikon?

Buying a new camera can be a daunting task. There are so many decisions to be made; brand, model, dslr or slr, size, etc. You can spend hours weeding through all the reviews and articles on one and end up right where you started not knowing who to trust.

Let me try to help you make your decision a little easier.
First, try to answer this question:
What will be the primary use of my camera?
 Will you be taking outdoor and landscape pictures or mostly portraits of family and friends? Maybe you don't know and just want something that does a little of everything? Or you do know and want to get into photography as a serious hobbyist and want to become a professional photographer?

Make sure you understand these 2 things very well:
  1. Light is the most critical component in photography. 

The light around you is one single most important factor in photography. As you can see, from this graph below from Olympus site, outdoor mid-day Sun provides lot of light compared to indoor room with dim light- almost 6000 times more light!!! In good light, any camera can do a good job. Most cameras will do more or less the pretty similar job for day-to-day photography.

** For outdoor and travel photography, there is always abundant light. In this scenario, when there is enough light, any camera will do a nice job. Even a smartphone/iPhone camera can take photos as good as an expensive SLR camera. Nikons or Canons, Panasonic FZ200 or LS100- nothing will make much difference in the photos.
--> A smartphone, an inexpensive Point and Shoot or an SLR will NOT make any distinctive difference in the image  in broad day light (I am not including various filters that are added on lenses by professionals that do change/control that light that gets on to the sensor). As such, I often go on hikes and there are times, I specifically take out my iPhone and use it. Not only iPhone is very convenient and handy, but just by changing HDR to ON, you can get vibrant colors in the your photos. Plus, it is very easy to take panoramic photos with an iPhone or any modern smartphone. I don't see any significant difference in photo quality for most of my purposes. I am not taking about professional photography where you do pixel peeking! I am talking about photos that there shared with friends or displayed on Flickr or Facebook or get printed for household use.

Bottom line: If you are an outdoor person or want a camera for travel, buy any camera that looks good to you and your budget. You will not be disappointed. I would give one advice. If you want to be able to zoom in, think of buying ultra-zoom cameras like Panasonic, Kodak, Fujifilm, Olympus, Nikon. Sony or Canon which have 20-plus times zoom. Consider Panasonic FZ200 or Fujifilm X-S1. They are bit bulky but for outdoor and travel photography, they are a delight to have. Panasonic FZ200 has an excellent lens and Fuji S-X1 has a sensor bigger than most other Point and Shoot cameras.

** For Indoor, low light and portrait photographyWe will talk about different scenarios where available light is gradually reducing. A smartphone/iPhone camera will be the first one to disappoint you as light goes down. Its optimized retina display can display your photos clearly but when you print your photos or look at them on a computer monitor, you will realize noise and lack of sharpness. This is because most smartphones have tiny sensors and tiny lenses. They are not able to capture enough light in reasonable time period to create a nicely exposed photo.
Most Point and Shoot cameras will do a much better job than a smart phone indoor or in low light but still you may not like their photos. Money really matters when the light starts getting low for your photography. Many people buy 'expensive' SLRs instead of 'cheap' Point and Shoot cameras thinking that they are wonder machines but when the light is not sufficient around you, even the latest models like Canon T5i or Nikon D7100 will disappoint you!

You need to remember this:
* In good light, any camera will do a decent job.
* When the light is going down or you are indoor in insufficient light, smartphones will become useless first.
* Imagine that light is reduced further. At some point, most point and shoot cameras will stop giving you good photos. SLRs and expensive point and shoot cameras will still do some decent job.
* Reduce light further down. Now it will be a challenge for most consumer grade SLR cameras too. They will struggle to give you good photos. However professional grade full frame cameras and fast lenses (F1.8, F1.4 etc) can still help you take photos.

2.  Second important thing in photography is YOU. 

Now in low light or awkward lighting situation, when most cameras fail to take good photos in AUTO mode, it is not your camera's fault; most consumer grade cameras are just not capable of taking good photos in such situations. However you can still manage to take better photos in certain situations with any camera. For that, YOU will need to help you camera. You don't need to be an expert photographer. Just within 2 hours you can learn some important techniques which can help you take better photos with any camera.
Some of the things you need to be aware of are Exposure Compensation, Timer function, taking photos without holding your camera in your hands, etc. If you want to get your feet more wet, you can learn basic things about Av, Sv or M mode and you will be able to take good photos in many situations in which your camera in AUTO mode disappoints. You can get over the limitations of available light and the technical limitation of your camera gear. It wouldn't matter if you are using a Nikon or a Canon brand. As long as sensor size and the lenses are similar, all cameras are created equal IMHO. Even an Olympus, Pentax or Sony will do equally good job. However it is you, your skills and your techniques that matter the most when the light and situation starts getting challenging.

What kind of Camera to buy then?

After using variety of camera brands, camera models and cameras in different sizes and capabilities, this is what I have learned. Consumer grade SLRs are good but I wouldn't recommend them for most when you take into consideration their bulkiness and inconvenience like changing lens, being not able to take macros, zoom out etc.
Here are my recommendations:
1) If the primary use of your camera is indoor and is for taking photos of your kids, pets, family members and friends, and if your budget allows it, buy an entry level SLR, or a mirrorless Micro Four Third camera system like Olympus PEN or Panasonic GF series. No need to go for an expensive camera like Canon 60D or Nikon D7100.
For most of us, Nikon D7100 is not a better choice compared to Nikon D5200 or D3200. No doubt D7100 is a better camera but for most of us, it is not worth to spend extra $500 on something that we probably don't need. D7100 has a better durable body, takes more photos consecutively (frames per second), has more controls on the body, etc. However do we need this? Most of us don't let our 5-8 year old kid hold our SLR camera ;) When we are this much careful, no point in paying for extra durable camera body. Most of us have no need or reason to shoot photos in rain. 90% of SLR camera owners normally don't use multiple-shots/faster shooting. So personally, I would advise you to save those $500 and spend them on some good fast lenses, external flash etc. A fine 35mm or 50mm F1.4 or F1.8 lens can help you take great portraits and indoor photos that most kit lenses wouldn't be able to do.
2)  If you need a camera for outdoor use or for travel, I would advise you to avoid an SLR. They are bulky, changing lenses is an hassle and then also in good light, they are not better than most P&S cameras or smartphones!
For outdoor and travel use, I would recommend you to buy a ultra-zoom cameras. These are a bit bigger than most P&S compact cameras but they have great zoom which can help you get closer to the object and take photos. Currently Panasonic FZ200 is a great camera. Fujifilm also offers some great choices at great prices. Canon and Nikon also have good cameras. You can click on this link here and see on Amazon some of the highly rated cameras with ultra long zoom

If you don't want to carry around a big camera but like the convenience of Point and Shoot camera, you can click on this link and see some highly rated consumer favorite cameras. Make you choice. Try to pick a camera that has a bigger sensor, faster lens, manual controls like Aperture-priority (A), Shutter-priority (S) and Manual (M) modes. Such controls can come handy IF YOU want to help you camera take good photos in some challenging lighting situations.

3) Best of both worlds.
If you want good photos indoor or in low light and also want to have convenience, you can look for Micro Four Thirds cameras or cameras like Canon EOS-M, Pentax K01, Nikon 1 series etc. These are great cameras. They are affordable, their sensors are much bigger than most point and shoot cameras, also offer all flexibility of an SLR camera. They are much easier to carry around. Plus with some cheap adapters, you can use old lenses (in manual mode) that can help you take photos as good as those taken with $2000-$5000 range.
Click here to look at some great camera systems that are highly rated on Amazon.

Recently my favorite cameras are Canon EOS-M, Pentax K-01, Panasonic GF and Olympus PEN cameras. People sometimes complain about their slow auto-focus but frankly for me and you, it really doesn't matter- at least in 95% of shooting scenarios. It is only in dark, low light, these cameras will struggle but I have learned to live with it. Sometimes, these cameras don't include Flash! I would like to go for a camera with built in flash or I would buy and external flash. Flash can come handy indoor or in low light.
On the plus side though, many of the cameras I have listed above come with great kit lenses (when compared with bigger counterparts like Nikon D3200/D7000 or Canon T5i/60D. As an example, Canon EOS-M comes with a great STM lens. Pentax K-01 has a nice tiny XS 40mm F2.8 lens! I bought both of these cameras for around $300! Their lenses are worth around $200! Both these cameras have excellent image quality and are very easy to carry around.
There is one more benefit in carrying such smaller cameras. When you are shooting, most people wouldn't take you seriously! Hence you can take candid photos of people.
Regarding video also, these hybrid cameras work very well. You can buy a cheap adapter on eBay and can use any old lenses. I often use old Super Takumar lenses on with my hybrid/MFT cameras and they give very good video and still images. Simply you can't compare their video with any consumer grade SLR camera with kit lens. Super Takumar 50mm F1.4 lens and Canon EOS-M/Pentax K-01 cost less than $400 and that is the best value in my opinion.

When going out on hikes, or taking photos of flowers etc in Macro mode, Point and Shoot camera like Fujifilm X-S1 works very well. I use Pentax K30 only when I am asked to take photos in some party or when I want to take nice portraits. I use it with Pentax 50mm FA F1.4 lens or with old M42 fast lenses like Super Takumar.

Happy photography. Enjoy taking photos.
(Grammar and spelling will be fixed shortly when the article is read by me again.).