Tag Archives: kit lens

Shooting In JPEG

Ask any experienced photographer and, aside from a very few (Ken Rockwell comes to mind), they will always tell you to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG. That is actually good advice but it’s not for everyone.

To make full use of raw files, you are expected to be reasonably good at post processing. Depending on how much time you have in your hands, learning how to shoot and how to process your images at the same time will definitely slow you down. Beginners in photography are better off spending more time shooting instead of sitting in front of a computer. I would advise them to shoot in JPEG instead because it does not require much processing.

To give an example, I will use one of my recent shots which I took using my Sony NEX6. I shot in RAW+JPG mode just for comparison. I know that the light is going to be tricky for this night shot and that I may have to push the shadows in post later on. I intentionally underexposed the image because it was a night shot afterall. Leaving the camera by itself to judge the exposure will render the image much brighter than intended and will ruin the mood. It was a beautiful twilight and the sky had a wonderful display of colours. I wanted to capture the fantastic magenta so I set the white balance to daylight otherwise the camera will think that there is too much red in the scene and it would shift the balance towards green.

Here is the JPEG image as captured straight from the camera:

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I’m quite happy with the composition. The camera has done a good job of capturing what I saw that time. Twilight is typically a low contrast situation. You could choose to increase the contrast in camera but doing so will only bury the scene in deeper shadows. Bottomline is, reality is quite dull and boring. The raw file is even worse: contrast is very low, colours are dull, there is too much barrel distortion from the kit lens and then there’s vignetting.

I went through my shots for that day just to see if there is something worth processing. There wasn’t much to go through anyway. For every hour of shooting I normally produce between 20 to 30 frames. I think before I shoot and if I like what I see in the LCD I would take 2 or 3 more of the same angle for safety. I tried processing some of the raw files in Lightroom but I could not come up with something that I liked so after a few minutes I decided to turn off my computer.

The day after, I got bored so I opened my iPad and decided to try processing my shots in Snapseed. It is a very simple app. Every beginner should install it. In just 5 minutes I managed to transform the JPEG image above into this:

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The difference is obvious but subtle. It’s practically just a few contrast adjustments, a gentle shadow push and a bit of sharpening. I also cropped the image a tiny bit to remove that white mark on the ground that can be seen on the lower left portion of the original shot.

The point is that if you start with a good image, a JPEG capture is all you will ever need. You do not need to perform heavy post processing that a JPEG file might not be able to handle. Thing is, if you have to spend hours tweaking a raw image then it probably means that you spent too little time thinking about the shot.

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Welcome to My Playground


This is the title that I gave to the photograph which I posted in Flickr. I chose the word playground to portray fun and joy. For me, fun should always come first in photography.

But what does it take to capture such a simple photograph?

The main ingredient is light. Photography, afterall, means painting with light. Not just light intensity or brightness but the quality of light as well. In landscape photography, there are two choices: dawn or dusk. Anything in between is just a variation of the word CRAP. Dawn and dusk have different qualities of light. When you are in the east coast and facing east, dawn will give you a warm orange light while dusk gives a cooler magenta glow. If you are in the west, it’s the opposite. Depending on your location or the time of year, you can have both at the same time. The photo below was taken at dawn as well but notice the magenta tint:


Shooting at dawn has several advantages compared to dusk. People are generally too lazy to wake up early which means you have the entire spot all to yourself. No distractions. For those who have day jobs it means you can still shoot during weekdays especially during summer where a typical session ends around 5:30AM. You’ll be home before the rest of your household is awake.

Dusk sessions have advantages as well. You can shoot longer even up until blue hour kicks in and get nice long exposures. Cityscapes look fantastic when artificial lights turn on.

Anyway, let’s concentrate on the first photo. I woke up at around 3:30AM to prepare myself. My friend’s house is still a 20-minute drive to my place where we agreed to meet. While waiting for him, I started putting on my ski gear because it was just 6 degrees outside. I checked the weather report again to make sure that our target location is free of any weather disturbances. If we suspect heavy clouds then we may need to divert to Cedar Creek instead to capture the waterfalls. The day before, I already knew the tide pattern so Point Halloran was the perfect spot. The tide will be high enough to give us some reflections but low enough such that the small boats won’t move. Timing should be perfect. If the tide comes in too quick before sunrise then our plans are ruined.

My friend arrived around 4:20AM. That’s the advantage of shooting in winter. The sun rises at 6:30AM so we didn’t have to wake up that early. During summer we usually start driving at 3:00 AM for a 5:00AM sunrise. Anyway, we left for Point Halloran and arrived at around 5:45AM. Being on location 45 minutes before sunrise is just right. One hour would be ideal so that you can scout the area. Because we were “late”, we had to rush and start shooting whatever subject we could find.

Let’s talk about equipment. A tripod is essential. Don’t leave home without it. A torch is very handy so you can find your way in the dark. I also brought my gummy boots because I know that the location is quite muddy. My trusty Pentax K5 is fully charged with the initial ISO set to 200 and configured to capture RAW plus JPG. I only have one lens: a cheap Sigma 17-70 which you could buy brand new for a little over $300. I had a cheap 0.9 GND filter attached to a knock-off filter holder. Don’t bother using a UV filter; it’s the most useless accessory you could buy for your lens. Use a proper lens cover instead and a lens hood if you are concerned about scratching your lens. Now that I have enumerated my gear, the point is that ANY camera and kit lens will do. There is absolutely no need for expensive gear in landscape photography.

So what did actually happen when I captured this moment? I was taking photos of a boat that was docked along the muddy shore. I was shooting wide at 17mm, aperture set to f16 and manually focused to 7 feet with exposure compensation set to +1. I was about to change position when I saw my friend about 20 meters away taking photos along the edge of the water. I immediately recognized the photo opportunity. I quickly opened my aperture to f11 and zoomed in to 70mm which was the longest my lens could go. It was just long enough to get a nice compression. I also had to raise my tripod to avoid his silhouette from merging with the horizon. I immediately thought about my composition. I had him positioned on the left third of the frame with the silhouette of the shoreline going from the bottom of the frame towards the horizon. The horizon was placed high enough but also making sure that my friend’s reflection is positioned nicely along the lower third of the frame. I then set my camera to autofocus and shifted the focus sensor to point at my friend. This was the quickest way to focus at infinity. Unlike older lenses that lock into infinity, modern (crippled) lenses don’t do this. Instead they focus past infinity and completely ruin your shot. Knowing that it’s going to be a silhouette shot, I dialed exposure compensation down to -0.5 to make the colors pop and darken the darkest blacks. I did one last peek to check my shutter speed and noticed that it wasn’t fast enough. So I shouted at him “Wag kang gumalaw!”, which is Filipino for “Don’t move!”. I pressed the shutter and my timer automatically started the 2-second countdown. Just before the timer expired, the camera flipped the mirror into a lock up position before finally opening the shutter curtain to capture the image. All of these happened in about 15-20 seconds. I chimped to confirm that the camera did what it was supposed to do and told my friend that he can continue whatever he was doing…after thanking him of course for being a cooperative model 🙂

I would like to emphasize the importance of an inexpensive kit lens here. Had I used an ultrawide lens, I would not have been able to capture this shot. Those distant mountains would have disappeared in an ultrawide lens and the horizon would have merged with my subject unless I shot from a very high position. If I brought a prime lens, I may had to swap lenses thus totally missing the opportunity or walked very slowly in the mud towards or away from the subject just to frame him correctly. Your kit lens is good enough for just about anything.

We started packing up at around 7AM with several keepers safely stored in our cameras.

Post processing is easy when you have done the difficult part of capturing the moment. A simple curves adjustment to enhance the contrast was enough. I did not crop at all. This is how it showed up in the LCD. I softened the image a bit to avoid halos along the edges of high contrast portions of the image. This halo effect is an artifact of digital capture. All my digital cameras do this. If you want to avoid this artifact, shoot film.

What do I like about this shot? I like the silhouette figures. The silhouette of the shoreline added depth to an otherwise flattened image that was brought about by the mid telephoto zoom. The main subject of course is shown here in a position typical of landscape photographers; bent over holding a leash to make sure that their cameras don’t run away. The mix of warm colors and cool blue foreground was a welcome surprise. I liked it a lot so I put my stamp of approval on the lower right portion of the frame 🙂

Allow me to summarize this post:

1. Light is everything.
2. Shoot at dawn/sunrise or dusk/sunset. Anything in between is crap unless you have something very special in the frame.
3. Preparation will consume most of your time.
4. You have to think fast and react just as fast. Which means …
5. Know your camera. Pick one that does not get in the way. You should be able to operate it even in complete darkness.
6. You do not need expensive equipment for landscape photography.
7. Laziness will get you nowhere.

For lessons on lens compression and zoom factor please refer to my previous tutorials:

Understanding your lens

Zoom factor

Drive by Shooting

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As promised, I am posting the photographs I have captured during my recent long drive to Snowy Mountains. It was  a one of a kind photoshoot “session” since nothing was ever planned at all. I didn’t know what to expect in each location; in fact the word “location” does not mean much at all because I barely stayed in one spot. It was more of whatever-comes-my-way type of thing. These shots were taken literally along the shoulder road.

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It was very challenging. Firstly, because setting up a tripod was impractical when a “session” lasts for a couple of minutes. Five clicks and away I went. Secondly, there was not much that can be used as a foreground element therefore subjects were typically several hundreds of meters or even kilometers away. Thirdly, since I had no time to set up my gear, filters became too cumbersome so I had to pick the right light conditions.

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Think about it for a minute. Low light, distant subjects, no tripod. Now you know why I practically dumped my Nikon D700 in favor of the small Olympus E-P3.

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I only have two lenses for my E-P3, the 17/2.8 pancake and the 40-150/4-5.6 plastic tele zoom. To be honest, I never needed anything more. The 35mm equivalent focal length of the pancake lens was wide enough for just about anything and the plastic tele was long enough for landscape shots. What I liked about my E-P3 was the fact that it is so light and it has built-in stabilization. And because it is a 43rds format, at f5.6 I basically get the equivalent depth of field as a full frame camera shooting at f11 at the same field of view. Instant two stops of light advantage!!! With image stabilization, I never needed a tripod! How good is that?!

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The images above were all captured by the plastic tele. I think it is sharp enough even wide open (f5.6) at the long end. I shoot it at f8 when I can just to get that extra ooomph. Here’s another one captured by the same lens:

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During those instances when I got the chance to rest and shoot properly on location, the 17mm pancake became very handy. The weather was also quite weird in that it would suddenly rain for a few minutes and then it stops. The E-P3 and 17mm combo was small enough to put inside my jacket’s pocket during a downpour.

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Here’s another shot captured by the pancake lens:

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And this is from the cabin where we stayed:

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I learned a very important lesson in this trip: Do not sacrifice fun for photography. In fact, photography should always be fun. If your equipment is a hindrance, then look for something else. Just because it’s more expensive does not mean it’s the best for every situation. Never underestimate the power of a compact camera. Even a point-and-shoot or an iPhone is good enough if you know where to point it.

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Before I end this post, please allow me to show you a few more of my E-P3 shots:

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By the way, all the photos here were shot in JPEG. I didn’t want to miss the best JPG rendition in the industry that I only get from Olympus.

Until next time! 🙂

Snowy Pilgrimage 2012 Update

I thought I would be able to update my blog throughout the course of the snowy trip. It turned out to be the most different among the trips I had. Not only did I lose access to the internet most of the week but the type of subjects and shooting opportunities were very different as well. There were no planned shots at all. I just aimed and shot whenever I got the chance. It was a run-and-gun type thing.

I brought my D700 with me because of the larger buttons that are easier to press in the cold. I also managed to bring my Olympus E-P3 by accident because it was inside my work bag together with my laptop. As it turned out, the E-P3 became my most valuable camera while the D700 stayed inside the car trunk!!! I would say that this trip was like a test drive of the E-P3.

For the mean time, here’s a shot I took with my iPhone in East Jindabyne:


I will post photos and stories when I get back to Brisbane tomorrow after a 12-hour drive.

— from my iPhone

Olympus E-P3 Review

This review has long been overdue and I think it may no longer be relevant especially that the E-M5/OM-D has been released. I mean what’s the point of reviewing old technology? Nevertheless, I’ll try to write about this camera in terms of my own experiences.

Just a bit of background about my other cameras. I have a Nikon D700 which I use for portraiture and event photography. I also have a Pentax K5 which I use for landscape and travel. I still shoot film and I absolutely love my Nikon FM3A and FE2 cameras. My iPhone 4G is for almost everything: events, candids, landscape, travel, basically anything that interests me.

So where does the E-P3 fit in considering that my other cameras have got everything covered? It’s the camera that replaces the iPhone when I expect to capture something worth keeping/printing where the DSLRs might seem awkward. So just like my iPhone the E-P3 is for everything.

The E-P3 is the camera I bring to work everyday, to birthday parties, to gigs/concerts, to everywhere. What I like about the camera, and m43 cameras in general, is their size. Big enough sensor to rival the image quality of DSLRs while small enough to carry everywhere without being awkward or intimidating. The camera can literally fit in my jacket’s pocket.

Last night we had dinner in a restaurant and it was very dim; just enough light to set an intimate mood. The E-P3 had no problems capturing the moment at all:


These are all unedited JPEGs shot at ISO 1600 with the kit 17mm/2.8 lens. The in-body stabilization is very effective in allowing me to shoot handheld even at 1/8s. The highlights and shadows are kept at acceptable levels. The grain doesn’t look bad at all. It actually looks like film grain which to me is pleasing. With a better set of lens such as the Panasonic 20mm/1.7, handheld shots should not be a problem in similar conditions. I could have used the pop-up flash but that would totally ruin the mood of the photo. I can’t imagine bringing my Nikon D700 in this occasion.

In good light, the E-P3 is superb. Here’s a shot of Adelaide Street in Brisbane using the plastic 40-150mm kit lens taken during mid day:


I opened the lens to f5.6. Again this is a JPG image processed in Photoshop. I like how smooth the E-P3 handles the highlights while maintaining details in the shadow areas. Some cameras are really bad at handling high contrast situations but the E-P3 managed to capture the scene quite well.

Another shot captured by the plastic 40-150mm lens at full zoom, ISO 800 at f5.6:


Camera in one hand while my other hand was trying to hold my umbrella against gusty winds. My D700 and 70-300mm lens would be almost impossible to use in this situation. Notice how the film-like grain adds character to the shot.

Here’s a different shot taken at dusk on the way home from work:


Here I used a flimsy tripod and captured multiple JPG frames for the stitched panograph. I really wished I had a wider lens. The 17mm (35mm in full frame) wasn’t wide enough even in portrait orientation and my back was already leaning against the wall.

I would say that the E-P3 is capable of handling just about any situation you throw at it.

Other features that I like in the E-P3 are the preset banks (none in my D700), fully customizable AEB (again, better than my D700), black frame subtraction to minimize hot pixels during long exposures, in-body stabilization that works, dust reduction that works and arguably THE best JPEG rendition in the industry. Autofocus with the 17mm kit lens is still hit or miss though but newer lenses are really quick. The kit lenses are really good. I have only used the 17mm, the new 14-42mm and 40-150mm plastic fantastic and they all produce very acceptable images even at their widest apertures.

Why did I choose a micro 43rds camera? I purchased the E-P1 with 17mm kit when it went on sale at 50% off. I gave it to my brother together with the 14-42mm when I won the E-P3 in a proper photography contest (proper meaning my friends didn’t vote for my photo). For me, Olympus’ implementation of the m43 format is the most logical carry everywhere camera that you could buy now. Other “compact” systems don’t make sense to me. The Sony NEX series have gigantic mediocre lenses, the Nikon 1 and Pentax Q really are just glorified point-and-shoot cameras. Of course there’s the Fuji X series but without proper zoom lenses, you could hardly call them walkabout cameras. They are also expensive, huge and have really buggy implementations. The Canon G1X looks really nice but I think it arrived too late. I won’t mind the fixed zoom lens of the G1X because I rarely change lenses even with my DSLRs. When I go out, I usually carry just one camera and one lens and concentrate on taking photographs.

With the release of the E-P3 (and the new E-M5/OM-D) together with superior lenses, Olympus has finally proven to the world that the 43rds format is here to stay. They have managed to build a stronghold in a unique position in the industry. I’m wishing them all the best.

Zoom Lens vs Prime Lens

Let me start by apologizing for I will be beating a dead horse that by the time I’m finished with this post it will be FUBAR…until someone else beat it to a pulp.

The reason I’m blogging about this is because another beginner has been victimized again by “experts” persuading n00bs to get a 50mm prime because it is a MUST HAVE lens. This beginner posted in a forum complaining about how tight his 50mm is on an APS-C sensor. Two mistakes have been committed: 1) forcing to buy a 50mm lens, and, 2) using it in a crop sensor camera.

I will say it again: Beginners will learn so much more by using a kit zoom lens than by using a fast prime lens. You can continue reading or find out how awesome your kit lens is right here.

I don’t want to start an argument about the technical advantages of prime lenses over zoom lenses but let me tell you that most of those advantages can be easily accomplished with a kit lens attached to a modern camera. That means any camera you can buy brand new now. What I would like to discuss instead is about taking real photos and not just test charts.

One of the biggest hurdles in photography is that most of the time we do not have control of subjects. You can’t tell a mountain or a tree to move for the perfect composition. All we can do is change position and/or perspective. With a prime lens, forget about changing your perspective. You just can’t. Why then would you limit your learning with a handicapped lens?

Let me expound on perspective and why a 50mm or equivalent lens is a big hindrance. The 50mm has almost the same field of view as human eyes. In other words, boring. No, I’m not saying Henri Cartier-Bresson’s shots are boring. I meant, unless you are as good as HCB, your shots will be boring. For a beginner, that means years and years of learning.

Photographers aim to let others see things that “normal” individuals would usually ignore. That’s why we shoot rusty metal for texture, silhouettes for forms and shapes, light and star trails, and so on. Stuff that ordinary humans do not normally perceive. Changing perspective is a very good technique to achieve this goal. Exaggerated views from ultrawide lenses and the effect of telephoto lens compression will immensely add to your artistic creativity. This is simply impossible with a 50mm prime.

The challenge is for the beginner to recognize the effect of varying focal lengths. It is very easy to just zoom in and out instead of stepping forward and back, a behaviour that pro prime lens users label as being lazy. I prefer to call it lens ignorance which is exacerbated if one restricts himself to a 50mm prime. In my next blog post, I promise to show you how you can maximize the use of your cheap kit lens.

I would like to end this post by addressing a nonsense argument against zoom lenses. Many prime users are quick to point out why those who prefer walkabout zoom lenses are not maximizing their SLR cameras. The argument is that SLRs were made so you could change lenses otherwise buy a point-and-shoot instead. ROFL!!!! We change lenses because the laws of physics won’t allow a sharp, distortion-free 10-500mm f1.4 full frame lens that fits in your pocket. There will always be limitations. A lens can be fast, long or light as long as you choose only two.

Use the most appropriate lens for the job. For beginners, stick to your kit zoom lenses. Stay away from prime lenses until you have decided which focal length suits you the most (hint: check the EXIF data of your shots). A zoom lens, with enough self discipline on your part, will get you there faster and let you take more interesting shots along the way.