Friday, November 30, 2007 – R.I.P

Siegfried Seierlein, founder of the notable website and author of “Photography with the Canon PowerShot G7” (available from has closed down and the sister site Better said, Siegfried is reorganizing his site to better represent his own expanding photographic interests and not be limited to the Canon Powershot series. If you check, you can read his announcement. Meanwhile, let’s be patient while we wait to see Siegfried’s new site.

Update: Siegfried's new site is available under the old address. It has changed overnight. Looks like we'll be able to observe his progress. Stay tuned to

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

G9: Processing that Raw File

One of the main reasons given for getting a Canon G9 is its capability to shoot in Raw mode. A Raw file is the digital equivalent of a film negative and there's a lot that can be done with it. But what software to use for the digital development of a raw image file?

Although Canon's editing software is bundled with the G9, there are other programs considered much better -- especially Adobe's Photoshop. The current version of Photoshop is "CS3". CS3 develops the raw image files with Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). ACR now has been updated to process Canon G9 Raw files.

Adobe Camera Raw can be intimidating. There's a new book that should be very helpful: "Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS3" by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe published by PeachPit Press. I got mine through Amazon. Here's a review of the book by Michael Reichmann.

Monday, November 26, 2007

G9 Pre-flash

In yesterday's post, I should have noted that there are problems when using inexpensive auxiliary optically triggered flashes with Canon main flashes in ETTL flash mode.

With optically triggered auxiliary flashes, it is important to know that Canon main flashes emit a "pre-flash" as part of the Canon ETTL system. Most auxiliary flashes are highly likely to be triggered by the pre-flash; this includes the in-camera flash of the G9. Therefore, it is essential to set the G9 for manual flash in order to properly trigger the auxiliary flash. My Quantaray MS-1 falls victim to the Canon pre-flash in every mode except for Manual.

Yesterday's post has been edited to include the above note.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

G9 and Flash

With winter coming on, we’re all likely to be taking more indoor pictures. Here’s a scenario that will be repeated many times this winter: Someone comes upon a nice indoor scene and decides to take a photo. Up comes the digicam, the shutter button is pressed, the camera decides that flash is necessary and the resulting picture is not at all what was expected. In the days of film, the photographer would not have known how the picture turned out until it was too late!

There are several things to be learned from the photo above. First of all, don’t stand directly in front of a reflective surface when using on-camera flash. Second, try not to even use on-camera flash. Third, don’t overpower the existing light with the flash. The G9 provides several ways to work around these difficulties.

The G9 has a hot shoe for external flash and works well with the Canon ETTL flash system except that ETTL does not work in the G9 Manual mode. Some Canon flashes and accessories cost nearly as much as the G9! Fortunately, the G9 also works with other flashes – even very inexpensive flashes.

Cowardly Disclaimer: Recent Canon cameras can be damaged by high flash trigger voltage. This is also true of many cameras. Before using older flashes with your new G9, check for compatibility. Here’s one reference:

I have personally used the Canon 380EX, 420EX, 580EX, a Nikon SB-24 and a Nikon SB-28 on my Canon G3 and Canon G9.

To capture this particular fireplace scene, moving to one side was easy enough. but how to turn down the flash and how to get the flash off of the camera? More importantly, how to do this without spending a lot of money?

To more accurately record the fireplace scene, I placed my G9 in manual mode at ISO 80, 1/30 second, f4 with the in-camera flash turned on but with flash power minimized. I moved slightly to one side so that the in-camera flash would not reflect from the fireplace. A small auxiliary flash with optical trigger was placed on a near-by table and the table moved closer to the fireplace. A sheet of common copy paper was placed between the flash and the small statue to reduce and diffuse its light. These and other techniques are explained at

My auxiliary flash, a Quantaray MS-1, cost about $15 several years ago and is still available. The MS-1 is not very powerful, is slow to recycle and does not trigger well in sunlight; however, it has served me well on many occasions. It is small and fits neatly in the small bag with my G9 equipment.

With optically triggered auxiliary flashes, it is important to know that Canon main flashes emit a "pre-flash" as part of the Canon ETTL system. Most auxiliary flashes are highly likely to be triggered by the pre-flash; this includes the in-camera flash of the G9. Therefore, it is essential to set the G9 for manual flash in order to properly trigger the auxiliary flash. My Quantaray MS-1 falls victim to the Canon pre-flash in every mode except for Manual.

Now, I have to confess that those manual flash settings, flash location and even the placement of the copy paper diffuser did not all come together on the first attempt (but with practice I’m getting faster). The point is, the G9 is a very versatile camera for learning to use manual flash. Also, it is not essential to purchase expensive external flash equipment to improve your G9 pictures with flash.

Here is an excellent reference for learning the Canon flash system and other flashes on Canon cameras. Much of this information applies to the G9 as well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

G9 and Closeups

A telephoto lens set at the minimum focus distance is the opposite extreme from the wide angle hyperfocal settings discussed previously. To get this picture, the G9 was set at full telephoto: 44mm (usually referred to as 210mm equivalent in terms of 35mm film). The aperture was f8 and the matching shutter speed was 1/160 sec for ISO 80 in sunlight. The G9 was about two feet away from the ring – almost, but not quite the minimum focus distance at full telephoto. In fact, I used the “macro” setting to focus on the ring.

Under these conditions, the theoretical depth of field is about ¾ inch. That is, only a distance of about ¾ inch into the picture appears to be sharply focused. The horizontal ring in the picture is about 4 inches in diameter and all of it is not in focus. Therefore, regardless of how the calculation is done, it is very obvious that the depth of field is on the order of one inch.

The G9 and similar small sensor cameras are sometimes said to be diffraction limited and those disparaging it as such will disapprove of using the f8 aperture. Don’t be afraid to use f8 – it’s OK.

Besides, at f5.6 the depth of field would only have been about ½ inch!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

G9 and Hyperfocal Focusing

The small point-and-shoot “digicams” so popular today have a significant depth of field. That is, for a given scene, the distance from the camera that is acceptably in focus is much more than might be expected with, say, a 35mm film camera. In fact, sometimes it seems that everything is in focus. The G9 is no exception to this rule.

At first thought, having everything in focus seems preferable although there can be good reasons for intentionally producing out-of-focus areas. In particular, in landscape photography the camera is often set to produce pictures having deep depth of field. Typically, this is done by setting a small aperture (large f-stop number) such as f22.

The G9 does not have apertures of f22; in fact, the smallest aperture is f8. The G9 has been criticized by some for this apparent lack of smaller apertures but f8 is more than adequate for depth of field. If smaller apertures are needed for exposure then the G9’s internal 3x neutral density filter should be turned on.

In some of my early tests, I noticed that the G9 automatically selected focus distances of about 25 feet whereas the main subject was easily 300 feet away. When I manually changed to infinity focus, there was no obvious change in the picture. How could this be?

The key phrase to understanding this phenomena is hyperfocal distance. Briefly, when the focus is set to the hyperfocal distance then everything from half that distance to infinity will be in acceptable focus. Remember that old camera that did not require (or allow for) focusing? It was built with the lens set at the hyperfocal distance. The focusing instructions for my old Kodak Brownie camera were simply to be certain that the subject was at least six feet away (as I recall).

Some love to debate the exact nature and mathematics of depth-of-field, focusing, focal lengths, enlargements, circle of confusion, etc. An excellent source of information, including computer programs, is For now, let’s just consider that the depth of field depends on the focal length of the lens, the distance that the lens is actually focused at and the aperture.

For the G9 widest angle zoom setting, the focal length is 7.4mm. At 7.4mm with f4 aperture, the hyperfocal distance is about 8 feet. This means that with the camera set for 8 feet everything from about 4 feet to infinity is in focus! No wonder I was confused! For my scene, automatic focusing was selecting about 25 feet – which was actually OK even though the main subject was much farther away.

At the other extreme, the G9 telephoto zoom is 44.4mm. At 44.4mm and f5.6, the hyperfocal distance is nearly 200 feet; everything from 100 feet to infinity is in focus. Therefore, as is known from experience, focusing is much more critical when using telephoto lenses.

So when using the automatic focusing modes of the G9, be aware that automatic focus settings rely on the principle of depth-of-field and make use of hyperfocal distance.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Blue Beetle

At the tender age of 14, I made my last and favorite plastic model car, the "Blue Beetle", knowing that some day soon I'd have my own real hotrod. Alas, that day never came -- at least not yet. The Blue Beetle survived Hurricane Camille and quite a few years tucked away in a shoe box before being displayed in my study.

With the new G9 in hand and looking for a subject, the ol' Beetle caught my eye and I grabbed a few shots. Those shots were OK -- the G9 worked -- but the Beetle deserved more. A few days later with a bag of sand spread on a worktable, a diffuser made from a frosted light panel and two strobes gelled with CTO filters, the Blue Beetle is preserved for posterity.

The G9 settings were ISO 80, 1/250 sec, F8, shot in RAW mode. The image file was processed in Adobe Camera Raw, then Photoshop CS3 with no noise reduction. Sharpening was done using PK Sharpener. The Blue Beetle was then slightly cropped to fit into a 12x18 inch print and printed on an Epson 2200 printer on Innova F Type Gloss paper.

I like the result.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

G9: Av and Tv Peculiarities

When the G9 is placed in Aperture Priority mode (Av), the internal logic for selecting the necessary matching shutter speed will not permit shutter speeds longer than one second. If a slower shutter speed is actually required for proper exposure, the LCD will display the “1” in red to indicate that there is a problem. However, the G9 certainly has the ability to use slow shutter speeds.

By using shutter speed priority (Tv), the shutter opening duration can be set for as long as 15 seconds. In Tv mode, if the necessary matching aperture value is not available, then the aperture value that is selected is displayed in red on the LCD.

You may not notice the red aperture or shutter speed display unless you are in the habit of pressing the shutter button halfway and holding it while you check the LCD display.

What are the limiting shutter speeds and apertures of the G9? These limits are usually as: shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/2500 second and apertures from F2.8 to F8.0. This is true but some combinations of shutter speed and aperture are not available at all and other combinations are only available under certain conditions.

If you have a G9, you’ve probably already noticed that the aperture range at the full telephoto zoom position is not F2.8 to F8; it is F4.8 to F8. This is a fairly typical characteristic of many zoom lenses and not only Canon products.

Imagine a hole that must be closed. A small hole can be closed more quickly than a large hole. When the G9 is set for an aperture of F2.8, the fastest shutter speed is not 1/2500 second; it is 1/1600 second. In fact, to get a shutter speed of 1/2500 second, the aperture must be nearly F8 if the zoom is at maximum telephoto.

As a means of working around these limits, a “Safety Shift” can be set in the G9 menu. With Safety Shift turned on, the aperture is automatically adjusted, if necessary, even when the G9 is in Av mode. Likewise, with Safety Shift on, the shutter speed will be automatically adjusted, if necessary, even when the G9 is in Tv mode. At first, I didn’t like the idea of the Safety Shift but, more recently, I’ve turned it on. Safety Shift does not affect Manual Exposure mode.

I don’t like the 1 second slow speed limit in Av mode. This has caused me some problems, especially when expecting to get three shots automatically exposure bracketed (AEB) for combining into a High Dynamic Range image. In these cases, I knew that the exposures would be long and had mounted the camera on a tripod. I wanted the same aperture for all three images but, instead of three, got only two different exposures – and sometimes only one! Manual mode is the answer but, unfortunately, auto exposure bracketing does not work in manual mode. This means that the camera must be touched – very carefully! -- between exposures.

These problems, quirks, bugs – whatever you choose to call them -- are not new to the G9. The G3 and, I assume, all the G Series cameras are very similar. As with all cameras, to get the most out of the G9, we have to learn its peculiarities.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Comparison of G3 and G9 ISO 400 RAW

One of my reasons for getting the Canon G9 when I already had a G3 was to get a higher useable ISO rating. The G3 has a maximum ISO 400 whereas the G9 goes up to ISO1600. Much has been made of the fact that the G9, having 12 megapixels, necessarily has smaller pixels than the G3 with its 4 megapixels. Small pixels generally mean more noise. Even so, it seemed likely that the G9 might be more useable at, say, ISO 400, than the G3. I decided that if the G9 produced reasonably good 8x10 prints at ISO 400 – even if special noise reduction was required -- then it would be a keeper. This turns out to be true and I’m keeping the G9.

The picture below is a direct comparison of the G3 and G9 at ISO 400. Once again, it is important to know the “rules” of the comparison. The scene is the same as in the previous post. The G3 and G9 were set at ISO 400, RAW mode and aperture priority (Av). The cameras were placed, one at a time, on a tripod; the tripod was not moved. RAW files were processed in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) with no adjustments; that is, all tonal adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction, etc were set to zero. (Keep this in mind when looking at the crops.) Even so, there are some important differences in the basic image files. The G3 image is naturally 2272x1704 pixels; the G9 is 4000x3000. The G3 lens was at its widest, 7.2mm focal length but the G9 widest focal length is 7.4mm. Even though the tripod did not move, the cameras were not precisely oriented. The G3 exposure was 1/1250 sec at f4.5 but the G9 selected 1/640 only about five minutes later. Rather than manually adjust these automatic exposures, I decided to accept them; the histograms look about the same.

Again referring to the previous post for the complete view, the sample below is from the bottom towards the middle.

On a 100% pixel view, the G9 image is larger. How should this be resolved? I decided to reduce the G9 image to the exact same number of pixels as the G3 (G3 and G9 images have the same aspect ratio). The above is a 100% crop showing 400x400 pixels (click on the picture for a larger view) of the (essentially) unprocessed RAW images. Clearly the G9 crop has less noise and shows more detail.

The above area was well exposed; let’s examine another sample from the shadows. The crop below compares the G3 and G9 at the middle right hand side of the full image. The rules of comparison are the same.

Once again, it is easy to prefer the G9 image. Perhaps the most obvious improvement of the G9 as compared to the G3 image lies in the amount of visible detail. Notice that the G3 sky shows more noise. Interestingly, the amount of noise in the shadows seems roughly equal but, again, the G9 image has much better detail and gives the impression of less noise.

Remember, these were comparisons of ISO 400 RAW files as exposed by the G3 and G9 in Av mode. The samples shown were not adjusted for levels, curves, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, etc. The G9 samples were downsized to match the G3 samples. Obviously, each image could be improved with proper post processing.

My conclusion is that I’d prefer to use the G9 at ISO 400 instead of the G3 at ISO 400 – even though the G9 pixels are smaller.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Comparison: G3, G9, S5, SD800, 20D

Suppose you come upon a well lit scene and simply raise your camera to your eye and get a snapshot. Which camera would be best? I gathered a Canon SD800IS, an S5IS and a 20D along with my G3 and G9 and attempted to make a comparison.

Once again, I’m impressed by the “rules” that must be made up for the comparison game. This time, the rules are: no special exposure, no special focusing, use low ISO setting, no tripod, compare the in-camera jpg images. Although all the comparative images came out OK, I probably should have used a tripod just to eliminate that variable. Also, because it is my normal practice, I shot in Aperture Priority (Av) mode.

My original intention was to post the various images and elaborate on the differences. As I viewed the various shots on my monitor, I realized that they were all the same. Well, almost the same, anyway. Especially at full screen size. I printed them on an Epson 2200 printer – the same. I printed them on a Canon i9000 printer – the same (but different from the Epson). Different papers – the same (but different paper to paper).

Of course, when I processed the RAW files (couldn’t resist getting RAW from the G3, G9 and 20D) then those images should be different from the in-camera jpgs. And they were. The ones that I over-exposed in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) were too bright. The ones that I over-saturated or over-sharpened were, well, over-saturated or over-sharpened. I combined an overexposure and underexposure in an attempt to get more detail but didn’t like it. All in all, for this particular scene and for the first pass attempts in ACR processing, the in-camera jpgs were fine – and that goes for all the cameras.

The picture posted above is from a Canon S5 IS. The G3, G9 and SD800IS look very similar – and why not? These images are all “designed” by Canon’s marketing teams and engineers (I’m making this all up but you get the idea) to be pleasing to the purchaser – on average. Realistically, you have to expect the in-camera jpg images from these Canon products to be very similar.

On the other hand, the 20D image was very different (remember, we’re talking about an in-camera jpg). The 20D has a CMOS sensor instead of the CCD used in the G3, G9, SD800 and S5. The 20D, a DSLR, is targeted at a different market. The obvious difference that I observed is more related to color saturation than anything else. That is, the 20D image was less saturated; however, this is actually a consequence of the 20D settings that I had personally established.

I tried to be objective. I waited days between comparisons. I showed the prints to quite a few people. These images, whether viewed on screen or printed to 8x10 are all essentially the same. I’ll venture to say that, based on these images alone, almost anyone would be happy with any of the cameras that I “tested”. Strangely enough, most people preferred the over-saturated in-camera jpgs of the digicams to the more realistic 20D version. In fact, I have to admit that my own preferences (based on processing the RAW files) look more like the digicam in-camera jpg than the more realistic 20D in-camera jpg. No doubt those preferences are a sign of the times.

My conclusion? For front-lit simple landscapes, any of the higher end Canon digicams produce about the same image. A more realistic image is made by the 20D DSLR. All produce an acceptable image when printed at 8x10 inches.

My personal choice? I’ve learned enough about the G9 to know that if image quality, especially enlarged prints, is the criteria, then I’m going to use the 20D. At the same time, for these particular images, I’ll give the edge, albeit a slight one, to the G9. Whether from the in-camera jpg or a processed RAW file, I consistently picked the G9 images as my favorites. I attempted to forget, to be objective, etc., etc. but the G9 just takes good pictures.