Tag Archives: sony

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.

Sony NEX6 Low-light Test

For the past few weeks I have been carrying the NEX6 to work every day. I like how light it is and how it fits my small hands. I am a very tactile person and this is very important for me.

I have already blogged about this camera not long ago. Again, this isn’t a review of this camera. I don’t think you can even buy this camera brand new anymore. It has been discontinued and superceded by the A6000.

Anyway I took the camera for some evening shots on my way home from work. All of the images below were shot handheld and some of them at ISO 6400. Compared to my other 16Mp small camera, the Olympus E-M5, I kinda like how the Oly handles the high ISO grain. Again, proof that it’s not just the size of the sensor that matters but the overall package including in-camera noise reduction and JPEG engine. IMHO, nothing beats Olympus when it comes to JPEG processing. The NEX6 though is also a good performer. I like how it handles JPEG better than my Pentax K5IIs and even my full frame Nikon D700 (the worst of the bunch in my opinion).

Here are some of the shots that I took in a span of one hour within a radius of about 200 meters. These are all completely UNprocessed JPEG shots straight from the camera in full resolution using only the 16-50 collapsible kit lens that came with it. No cropping, no retouching. Just the pure goodness of the NEX6.

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In-camera black-and-white conversion looks good as well:

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I had to push harder when it turned completely dark. Here are some shots of the casino.

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That’s it for now. Next time, I’ll see if I can push it even harder šŸ™‚

Sony NEX 6 and 16-50 Kit Lens

Good things come to those who wait.

I wasn’t really looking for another camera…especially not the NEX series. They are not really small when you take into account their lenses. Besides, I already have my Olympus E-M5. The camera wasn’t really for me and since JB HiFi was practically giving away the NEX 6 and 16-50 kit lens for $509 AUD, I bit the bullet. The store that I went to actually sold out all their stocks; three just on that day alone. It was selling like hotcakes. The very helpful sales lady had to call four other branches to find a stock for me. After about half an hour over the phone, she found one about 45 minutes drive from where I was.

This is not really a review of the NEX 6 and there is no point in reviewing something that is already discontinued and replaced by the A6000. But anyway …

There are a few things that I don’t like with the NEX 6. The menu is just terrible. It’s not even divided into sections so there is no way to quickly navigate to a particular setting. However, the there is a display mode in the rear LCD that allows you to change important settings such as the output quality, focusing modes, white balance, etc… Unfortunately, there are no custom presets that you could saveĀ for easy recall and since the image stabilisation setting is hidden deep in the menus, there really is no quick way to switch from casual shooting to landscape photography. The kit lens is also theĀ electronic zoom type and there is a significant lag in response time when you zoom in and out. It’s quite difficult to precisely get to a particular focal length by feel alone. I’m a very tactile person and this is what irritates me the most. However, the size of the 16-50 kit is very much preferable to the gigantic 18-55 kit that came with the other NEX releases. I think that the trade-off between irritating, inaccurate zoom and lens size is fair.

What I do like about the NEX 6 is that it has enough knobs and buttons to do real photography. It’s got the mode dial on top and a wheelĀ under it to configure settings depending on the shooting mode that you are in.Ā There is another multipurpose wheel behind the camera that allows you to set different parameters such as exposure compensation, focus points, ISO, etc… Quite neat really. What I really like about the NEX 6 and Sony cameras in general (I used to own an A700) is that the AEL button can be configured to be persistent. You can meter the seen, click on AEL and it will keep that exposure until you click it again. You do not have to hold it unlike other camera brands. Very handy when you are doing panoramic stitching or when you decide to shoot in pseudo-manual mode.

Anyway, what really matters is how this camera captures what you’re aiming at. I notice that it tends to underexpose so I have the exposure compensation set to +0.3 most of the time. The kit lens is also amazingly sharp. Here is a sample output at ISO 1600, 16mm at f4, completely untouched straight from the camera:Image

I think this toy camera is a keeper. The way it fits my hands is just right. I don’t mind ifĀ the shutter sounds like a paper stapler. It fits in my small bag and I can bring it anywhere and it takes nice photos. For me, that’s what matters most.

 

Choosing the Dark Side

Canon vs Nikon. They never end. Lucky Sony, Olympus, Pentax and other underdogs for not having to deal with the stupid arguments. But this post isn’t about brand wars.

Expose to the right (ETTR) is a common advice in digital photography. It simply means, try to make sure that you expose your shot with bias towards the right end of the histogram. Make it as bright as practically possible without blowing out the highlights. If you understand how digital photos are stored, this makes sense. You want to maximize every bit of those 12-14 bits.

There is danger in blindly following this advice since the linear profile of digital camera sensors is not very forgiving. Once you clip past a certain limit, no data is stored in the photograph. This is characterized by blown highlights. Unfortunately, it is a lot easier to blow the highlights than lose the shadows.
There is something I discovered just a few months ago that I would like to share with you: It is better to underexpose than expose to the right. Not just underexpose but severely underexpose especially if the dynamic range of the scene is too wide.
Have a look at this photo because I quite pushed the camera beyond its limits when I took the shot:


Very dark isn’t it? The exposure was ISO 400, f8, 30 seconds after +2.5 stops of exposure compensation from the metered reading. That’s pushing the sensor a bit too much. I could have opened up to f5.6 but my cheap lens is very soft at that aperture. Going ISO 800, on the other hand, will only introduce more noise.
Now have a look at the same photo after post processing:


That’s a world of difference! I just pushed the exposure by +1.35 stops and then pulled some of the shadows with fill light. I have managed to extract details in the shadows while preserving the highlights. There’s more: peep all you want but there is barely a trace of luminance or chroma noise even after brightening the shadows. Amazing!!!

The photo was captured with a Pentax K5. It’s really amazing how modern sensors have improved. I would expect the same performance in the Nikon D7000 and Sony A55 because all of them use the same Sony sensor (surprise?!!!).

This is not the only instance where I managed to salvage a seemingly hopeless exposure. I do a lot of HDR work when the scene is too contrasty and I normally bracket at -2,0,+2. Many times, I was able to scrap the HDR because I was able to extract enough information from the -2 frame. Single exposure shots are still way cleaner than HDR so I always try to pull the shadows if I can.

Experiment with your own camera and see how much you can extract from a severely underexposed image. Make sure you shoot RAW.

So who’s coming with me to the dark side?

Edit:
My new iPad blogging software ruined the original post. Lesson for me: sticking to one buggy software is sometimes better than switching software.