Used Gear - Yes or No?

I have been a proponent of buying good quality, pre-owned equipment for quite a long time. Most of the "stuff" I have is used and performs exceptionally well.  I have bought from dealers, on ebay and from local sellers using Craigslist.  I've been lucky and never had an issue.  For some advice, take a look at this recent article:

https://www.lightstalking.com/10-important-tips-purchasing-used-camera/

  

Ouch!

I went on a photo safari in Botswana this past September (2016).  I took my D810 and a few lenses - AFS 300mm f/4; AF 80-200mm f/2.8D; AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 and AFS 17-35mm f/2.8 as well as my trusty AF 50mm f/1.4D. I also made good use of a TC17EII.  I am still reviewing the images and selecting the ones worthy of post-processing.  Shooting birds in flight and animals on the move translates to a large number of images to review and discard!

While at the Mowana Lodge on the Chobe River, I carelessly DROPPED my camera...  with 300mm lenses attached.....  The bayonet mounting ring snapped off the body rendering the camera inoperable.  No damage to the lens though.  So halfway through a photography trip I was without a camera!  We had done some safari'ing with PANGOLIN PHOTO TOURS and became friendly with one of the guides Charl Stolz.  Pangolin has loaners for tourists getting into photography and Charl was kind enough to sell me one of their D7000 bodies.  All my lenses were compatible and the BEST part was that my batteries are too!  I used the D7000 for the remainder of the trip and got some amazing images.

Back home, I took the D810 to Sun Camera at Steeles and Keele and had it repaired.  So now I have 2 camera bodies again.  Note to self:  Be careful with the camera equipment and take a few seconds to ensure its secure!

What do I use for my image captures?

This is a question that I am asked when people see my work.  I will answer the question, but I just want to stress that a simple camera in talented hands will produce amazing photos and expensive equipment in the hands of someone who has no "vision" will render outstanding crap.

Although I was using 2 older Nikon bodies, a D300s and a D700, I recently decided to "upgrade" and acquired a D810. 

My lenses are all made by Nikon and are top quality.  Many times the limiting factor is the lens so it is important to have good "glass" especially with sensors of 16MP and greater.

I do not like "variable aperture" zoom lenses since they have much less ability to control light and depth of field.  I have three zoom lenses,  17-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 80-200mm f/2.8.  I also shoot with prime lenses: 16mm f/2.8 fisheye, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, 105mm f/2.8 macro and 300mm f/4 telephoto. 

This kit gives me quite a bit of flexibility and the ability to choose the right body/lens combination for the situation. 

Who makes the BEST camera?

This is a long standing question and the subject of never-ending debate.  Everyone has an opinion and most are valid.  In the days of 35mm photography the frontrunners were Canon and Nikon for many years joined by Pentax, Olympus and Minolta.  When digital technology started to supplant film, Canon and Nikon developed their entries with Nikon joining up with both Kodak and Fuji to provide not only choice, but also technologicl innovation.  Sony bought Minolta and the race for superiority was on!  But behind the scenes, Sony was supplying digital sensors to almost everyone.  For most of the first 10 years, there were 2 kinds of digital cameras:  professional quality DSLR's and consumer directed "Point and Shoot"s.  

Then Olympus, Panasonic and Leica co-operated to develop the "Four Thirds" format and then the whole business took a left turn when the Compact System or "mirror-less" cameras were introduced.  (I am not even going to mention the camera in your cell phone!!)

Today, buying a camera is a very complicated process and you need either a strong background in photography or a sales professional you can trust.  The best camera is the one that YOU can use properly to capture the images that YOU are happy with.  Nothing else matters. 

Photographing Festive Lights

Although it is cold outside in this "neck of the woods", for those brave enough to get outside and shoot the lights, there are some great opportunities.  There are a few things to know when trying to make the most of your neighbours' efforts.

1. The best time to capture the images are at twilight.  Just before the sun sets, you will get a decent shot of the house as well as the lights.  When its DARK out, all you get is the lights.

2. Use a tripod

3. Use a remote shutter release (or the self-timer if you don't have a cable release)

4. If you are using a DSLR, use the "mirror up" feature to minimize vibration and if your lens has a vibration reduction/image stabilization feature - turn if OFF.

5. If you have a spouse or kids and want some great festive pics, take them along and use a wide aperture to create some great "bokeh".

Send me any comments you have or questions about the above.  Thanks and best wishes for a festive season.

Gallery Show

i was at the gallery recently to chat about my work.  There was some interest in the technical details of the images on display. I really enjoyed speaking with people who appreciate fine art photography. Hopefully enough to give the pieces a new home........

JPG vs RAW part 5 (at last..!)

Part 4 ended part 4 with - Why would you shoot in RAW?  Because YOU have control over the final result.  If you take a look at two images in the "Blog Examples" section of the Image Collections, i will try to explain what I am taking about.  The first image is as the scene was shot. Although it was shot in RAW, the JPG would have looked about the same.  I was at a relatively high elevation with a low cloud cover.  The background is almost completely obscured.  However, the naked eye could discern that there was a mountain range in the distance.  I took the shot to determine what would be captured by the sensor in my camera.

In post-production using Adobe Lightroom,  I was able to bring the mountains out of the clouds.  See the second image.  This is because data representing the mountains was captured by the sensor.  By shooting in RAW, rather than JPG the processor did not evaluate the image, determine that there was not enough differentiation and then compress the mountains out of the final image.  I saw the mountains and the sensor did too.  And you can as well, in the second image.  I think the difference is dramatic and illustrates the benefits of capturing as much data as possible.  Remember, that film did exactly the same thing as RAW capture.  JPG was developed to minimize file sizes and may be useful in situations where there is not a broad range of tone, colour or contrast.  JPG, since it uses a "lossy compression" is also not well suited to files that will undergo multiple edits, as some image quality will usually be lost each time the image is decompressed and recompressed.

I hope that this series of Blogs will help you understand why RAW is preferable and also help you to determine when JPG might suffice.  As always, feel free to comment or ask further questions.  Thanks for reading.

JPG vs RAW part 4

In my last post, I said that "The final JPG image is not so good for "serious" photography.  On reflection, I thought that it may have been a bit harsh, but today I spoke with an advanced amateur photographer.  He mentioned that he is starting think about RAW after reviewing some images he took on a trip to Iceland a few years ago.  His comment to me was that he's like to apply some processing to improve the results, but since he shot JPG's, there was not enough data to work with.

To understand what he meant, we have to understand that a RAW image file contains ALL of the data that the camera's sensor is capable of gathering.  The image file is called RAW because it is unprocessed by the camera's on-board software. Camera manufacturers use different file extensions for their files:  Nikon uses .NEF, Canon uses .CRW or .CR2 and Olympus uses .ORF.  Although not compatible with each other, these files share the same attributes in that they contain image data, not pictures.  To see what the sensor "saw" these files have to be processed (interpreted) by software such as Adobe Camera Raw, Aperture or Lightroom.  The electronic process is analogous to "developing" film.  When you shot an image on film, you knew it was there, but you did not expect to see it until the film was processed and you could review the "negatives".  This is sort of the same, but using computers instead of chemicals.

The HUGE benefit to RAW is that once captured, you can change much of an image's settings such as white balance, exposure, colour saturation and contrast.  And you apply changes to all or just a portion of the image. The COOL thing is that the actual file that came from your camera is NEVER affected.  The changes are tracked in a "sidecar" file that keeps track of your edits and the software applies them when you view or print the image.  For this reason, the edits are referred to as "non-destructive" and your original RAW file is never compressed.    

So - why would you shoot in RAW?  Because YOU have control over the final result, not the brilliant engineers who designed your camera hoping they can give you what you want.  The next (last?) blog on the subject will deal with examples of what you can accomplish with RAW.

JPG vs RAW part 3

In the last blog, we ended with "Now that we know what RAW is, we can go on to explain why you'd want to use it...."  I guess that the difference between JPG and RAW is akin to the olden days when you could take pictures with 35mm film or use a Polaroid.  The Polaroid gave you a nice picture, but if you wanted to change it - well it was WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).  However, if you shot the image with 35mm film, you had control over the processing and post-processing.  The film captured data and when developed, you could edit it for exposure, colour saturation, colour temperature and imperfections.

I suppose these attributes of film were of more interest to professionals, but even casual photographers could go to a local lab and get their negatives cropped, corrected and printed.

Although there is software that permits basic editing of JPG images, we have to understand how a JPG is created.  Your digital camera comes packed with very sophisticated computer technology.  When you capture a JPG image, your camera's image processor evaluates it and determines (for you) what data to retain and what data is unneeded.  Shades and fine details are averaged and much of the data is discarded when the image is compressed.  Thus a JPG is a compressed image and is referred to as a "lossy compression".  To understand this, think of an image with a bright background and a darker foreground.  If the foreground has detail in the shaded areas, it will be averaged and the resulting image will contain very little of what your eyes saw.  

The final JPG image is great for snapshots and family photos, but not so good for "serious" photography.  In the next instalment, we'll delve into the technical aspects of RAW....

 

 

JPG vs RAW part 2

To explain why you would want to use a RAW format, we have to explain what RAW is.  Every camera manufacturer gives you this option.  The files have a specific extension that denotes a RAW file.  Nikon (my preference) uses the NEF format (Nikon Electronic File), Canon uses either CRW or the newer CR2 and Olympus uses ORF (Olympus Raw Format).  These file types all have the same attributes but are no compatible with each other.

They are different from JPG's in that they contain 100% of the data "seen" by the sensor and the camera does not process any of it.  The file sizes are much larger than JPG's since none of the information is discarded.  So it appears that RAW should be "better" since it has way more data than a JPG file.  Well, it may be true, but......

Since the camera's software is not used to process that data, you will need something to do it.  It is similar to shooting film in the "olden days" and then having to develop the film to get an image you can see.

If you shoot in a RAW format, you will need software like Adobe Camera Raw, Aperture or Lightroom to process (think - develop) the data.  There are others, but these are the top 3.

Now that we know what RAW is, we can go on to explain why you'd want to use it....

JPG vs RAW

A question I am asked frequently is "Do you shoot in JPG or RAW? "

The answer is actually, both.  As a former (and sometimes current film photographer, I need the latitude that RAW images provide.  However, when I do not intend to process the images, JPG is definitely a more efficient format.  If you have a few minutes, let me begin to explain....

Most beginning digital photographers use the JPG setting in their cameras.  This setting allows the software in the camera to "process" the data captured by the sensor into a viewable image.  The photographer has control over the white balance, exposure and ISO and when you preview the picture on your camera's rear screen, for the most part, what you see - is what you get.  If you don't like it, you just change the settings and shoot again.  The best parts of digital photography is that you get instant feedback, and retakes are free!.

So, what do I mean when I say that the camera "processes" an image to produce a JPG file?  Well, in simple terms - the camera's digital sensor captures image data from whatever you point it at.  The data comprises information about colour, light, white balance and focus.  In JPG mode, the camera analyses the data and discards a portion that the software "thinks" is unnecessary.  It does this by "compressing" the data.  The compression is referred to as "lossy" referring to the discarded or lost data.  

But what data is lost?  Well, let's say that an image contains 6 shades of blue.  That's pretty subtle and may not even be discerned by someone looking at a printed picture.  So the software smooths it out into 3 shades, by discarding (losing) some of the data and smoothing out the remaining information.  This same process is used for gradations in light intensity and other elements of the photo.  Very cool and efficient.  File sizes are manageable and the pictures usually look great!

Sounds like the camera takes a great picture so what the heck is RAW?  And why use the RAW mode?  Wait for part 2......