Friday, December 28, 2007

G9: The Sweet Aperture

Many devices have a “sweet spot”; that is, a place, operational mode or setting where the device works best. Sports provide some of the best examples: baseball bats, tennis racquets and golf clubs all have a sweet spot (even if I could rarely find it!). Machines are the same way. Long ago I learned that a automobile engine runs best under conditions corresponding to a highway speed of something like 45 miles per hour. Wonder if that is still true? Centrifugal pumps certainly have a sweet spot; it’s even called the Best Efficiency Point (BEP). Generally speaking, when additional information is not available, I assume that the sweet spot of any device is near the middle of its operating range. The end points of an operating range are typically compromises in some way or other.

The G9 aperture can be varied between f2.8 and f8. The sweet spot in this range is somewhere between f4 and f5. After a few tests, I’d say that the sweet aperture of my own G9 is about f4.5.

A simple test was set up as shown here with a ruler on a table in window light. The G9 was on a tripod, in Manual exposure mode, shooting raw + jpg at ISO 80 and set for the 2 second shutter delay to avoid camera shake. The coins were placed along the ruler for reference points. After determining the correct exposure, pictures were taken at various apertures (changing shutter speed to keep correct exposure). The focus was obtained automatically at the penny but I was concerned about the effects of focus so all tests were repeated using focus bracketing; however, this turned out to be unnecessary.

Here is a composite of the crops from the in-camera jpgs. Several things are going on here and all at the same time. The exposures vary a little bit and the outdoor window light also varied somewhat. As expected, depth of field increased as the aperture decreased (f-number increased). Some sort of in-camera sharpening, contrast, etc is being done as well. All these images look reasonable and about the same at first glance. Now click on the image to get the 100% crop view. Take a close look at the scale markings of the f4.5 variation at the penny. The scale graduations are in 1/64 inch and every graduation is visible. Two inches closer to the camera, near the nickel, the f5 version shows more detail and the f4 version shows the least detail. This is the effect of depth of field. The same effect should be seen near the dime at the 8 inch mark – the most detail in the f5 shot. But wait! The f5 shot is worse than the f4.5 shot. Notice that details of the graduations are visible out to about 7-32/64 on the f4.5 shot but only about 16/64 on the f4 and f5 shot. What is going on here?

Remember, I was shooting raw + jpg but taking the easy way out and using the in-camera jpg to draw conclusions. Time to examine the raw files. The raw files led to exactly the same conclusion: f4.5 is the sweet aperture for the G9. The raw files also revealed much more detail than the in-camera jpgs. In this composite (click for an enlargement), the f4.5 crop from raw (middle) reveals detail out to about the 8-8/64 inch mark. But notice that the f8 crop from raw (right) shows even less detail than the f4.5 crop from the in-camera jpg. In fact, the f8 crop from raw is noticably soft along the entire length. These are unexpected results except for the concept of the “sweet spot”.

What is the technical explanation for this sweet spot near f4.5 for the G9? The answer to this question appears to be related to the diffraction limit. I’m certainly no expert in diffraction but here are some handy links for a more detailed explanation and even some calculations.

Wikipedia has a detailed explanation of diffraction.

There is a good explanation of diffraction in digital photography and even a calculator to estimate the limiting aperture at

In a final comparison, instead of the 100% pixel peeping monitor view, I made 8x10 sized, full frame matte prints on a Canon i9100 printer. Near the 8 inch mark, the 1/64 graduations are not detectable with the unaided eye from any of the variations! Even so, the f4.5 print from raw is obviously preferable to the others.

When the absolute maximum quality image is required, I’ll be tending to shoot my G9 at f4.5 but the larger and smaller apertures are still very useable – and I do drive faster (and slower) than 45 mph!

Note: Knowing I would be writing that raw revealed more details than jpg, and anticipating the grief that would come my way for doing so, I suddenly remembered that when the G9 is set for raw + jpg, the in-camera jpg is compressed at the “Fine” level whereas in pure jpg mode the “Super Fine” compression is available. I repeated the test shots in jpg only, using “Super Fine” compression mode. The results are the same: f4.5 is the sweet spot and raw reveals more detail than jpg; however, Super Fine compression does reveal slightly more detail than Fine compression. I believe that the difference in the raw and jpg shots is not “raw vs jpg” but is instead an indication of the in-camera noise reduction that is done on the in-camera jpg even at ISO 80. The raw file did not have any noise reduction applied. Should noise reduction have been applied to the raw files? Well, you were looking at 100% crops, would you apply noise reduction?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

G9 on SmugMug

I've set up a special album on SmugMug for my better G9 photos.

Doesn't it seem strange to group your work by the tool that was used? Even so, a G9 album is probably useful for the time being.

A word about selecting and showing your best photos: Once I attended a photo workshop in which the instructor was asking everyone "Why are you here?" My response was that I wanted to increase my "yield" of good photos. The instructor asked how many good photos I got per roll (right, this was in the days of film). I was embarrassed to say that I got about 3 good shots per roll of 36 exposures. The instructor then said, "I wish I could get three good shots per roll!" Later, during his slide show, I realized that I was not getting any good shots per roll!

So don't take my G9 album as an indication of what the G9 can do -- it's what *I* can do at this time. I hope your shots are better and that my own get better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Of Hammers and Cameras

My dad had many hammers. Hammers large and small, short and long, wood, metal, fiberglass and plastic were scattered around his workshop: claw hammers, framing hammers, tack hammers, ball-peen hammers, a sledge hammer, various mallets, mauls, and hatchets. There was even an electric hammer, a nail gun that automatically focused just the right amount of energy on a special nail to drive it precisely into the wood. My dad did not collect hammers but he had many because he loved to make things, especially of wood.

It never occurred to me to ask my dad which hammer was his favorite. His hammers were tools; each had its own purpose and function. All the same, I knew that one hammer was special even though it was not the most specialized and certainly not the most expensive.

As a young boy learning to use a hammer, my dad would give me a handful of nails and a board. While he was doing his woodwork, I’d sit on the workshop floor and tap away, holding the hammer midway up the handle. Tap, tap, tap, taking dead aim with each tap. Hit the nail on the head. Tap, tap, tap. Time for a story and a lesson.

In the Depression, my dad was working at F. W. Woolworth’s – one of the original “five and dime” stores – when he got a better job at a shipyard. He had to provide his own hammer for the new job so he bought a claw hammer at Woolworth’s for fifty cents. That fifty cents represented a substantial part of his wages but also an investment in his future. On one of his first days at the shipyard, as he was using his new hammer, an older worker asked to see it. My dad proudly handed over his new hammer only to see his co-worker immediately saw off the bottom half of the handle. When my dad asked, “Why’d you do that?” his co-worker replied, “Well, you weren’t using the bottom part of the handle anyway!” Daddy was then told to take it to the repair shop and get a new handle – which he did. A lesson taught, learned, and taught again.

There are newer and perhaps better hammers than that five and dime Depression hammer. Computer designed and made of space age materials, a modern hammer is a model of efficiency as a striking tool. Some don’t even look like hammers. Modern hammers are variously engraved, marked and labeled promoting these features (not to even mention the safety warnings!). My dad’s old hammer is marked only “Drop Forged” but I feel certain it was “Made in the USA”.

As child, my goal was to learn to use that hammer correctly. I practiced. I drove nails, pulled them out, straightened them and drove them in again. I wasn’t making anything – just practicing using that hammer. Practice makes perfect.

No one ever asked my dad which hammer he used to build his workshop, make a roll top desk, frame a picture or fashion a cradle for his great-grandchildren. Of course, his answer would have been different in each case and would have always included “The right tool for the job”. So I learned that even though a tool might be selected on its own merits for a job, the favored becomes the favorite through years of generating a life’s work and the tales that embellish it.

My dad had more saws than hammers, but that’s another story.

I had eight hammers myself. Now I have nine but these days am more likely to be seen with a camera in my hand. Photography is my wood and I have, well, quite a few cameras to practice with. You never can tell when one might be needed and I certainly want to use the right tool for the job.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

G9 Display in Flash Mode

There are many ways to do flash photography with the Canon G9. I've given some examples here, here and here and will be giving more. As always, I recommend that you do as I do and follow Strobist for learning off-camera flash. Meanwhile, seeing the variation in the G9 flash display might help clear up some confusion.

With the G9 in Program mode, turn the built-in flash on, press the Function Set button and scroll down to the flash adjustments. The G9 display should look like this:

The idea here is that you can increase or decrease the flash effect as compared to what the G9 thinks it should have been. This adjustment is independent of the shutter speed or aperture selected by Program mode.

But if the G9 is in Manual exposure mode, the flash display looks like this:

In G9 Manual exposure mode, YOU control the amount of flash. It’s not difficult, take a trial shot and adjust the setting with the Control Dial. Unfortunately, the adjustments are limited to Full, 2/3 Full and 1/3 Full power.

With external flash mounted on the G9, the display looks different. Here’s the display with a Canon 580EX mounted in the hotshoe; again, the G9 is in Manual exposure mode:

With the 580EX mounted and the G9 in Manual exposure, you still must manually adjust the flash; however, you can turn down the flash to 1/64 power (and to 1/128 with the 580EX II). The display is the same whether the 580EX is in ETTL or its own manual mode. It seems easier to me to leave the 580EX in ETTL and make the adjustment on the G9. A nice touch is that even older Canon flashes like the 420EX and 380EX that do not have manual adjustments on the flash can be adjusted with the G9 just like the 580EX.

If a non-Canon flash is mounted, the G9 display looks as shown below:

The flash adjustments are grayed out and are not usable. You’ll have to adjust the non-Canon flash through its own on-flash adjustment (if any). This isn’t particularly difficult; I do it frequently with a Nikon SB-28 and SB-24.

And yes, that’s a door frame in my illustration photos! All photos of the G9 taken with the old faithful G3.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

G9 and Canon Multiple Flash

Woof-Woof is a bit of a lounge chair potato so why not practice flash photography on him? These two shots were taken at night – it’s a wonder he wasn’t asleep!

Here’s a basic bounce flash photo using the Canon 580EX on the G9. The G9 was set for ISO 80, Program mode. Exposure, selected by the G9, was 1/60 second at f3.5. (I’ve noticed that the G3, G9 and even the 20D seem to head towards max aperture in Program mode when a flash is attached.) Not too bad, although a bit flat, I’d say. Time to try a little directional lighting.

The Canon 580EX can control another compatible Canon flash – in this case, a 420EX. The 580EX was set on “master” and the 420EX on “slave”. The 580EX controls the relative amount of light that each flash emits. The 580EX ratio controls were set for 1:2 so that more light comes from the 420EX. The 420EX was placed on a bookcase and pointed directly at Woof-Woof. The 580EX was on the G9 hotshoe and pointed towards the ceiling; that is, the 580EX provided the (bounced) fill flash – similar to the first shot.

The result is a bit different from the first shot. Instead of flat, the lighting is now directional with fill. The amount of side vs bounce light can be controlled from the 580EX to suite one’s taste. The direction of the light is controlled by the position of the 420EX (slave).

Pretty simple, just don’t try it in Manual mode and expect ETTL or the ratios to work; however, the master will trigger the slave flash with the G9 in Manual mode.

(Both shots from unprocessed in-camera jpg without claiming great lighting or composition.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

G9 with Canon External Flash

Having a hotshoe for external flash is a great feature of the Canon G9. The G9 works well with Canon’s recent flashes and even some of the older ones. Just be aware that the G9 is small in comparison to some of these external flashes so the combination can be somewhat unwieldy. Also, the flash can cost almost as much as the G9! Here are some simplistic examples using the Canon 580EX on the G9.

Imagine that you come upon Woof-Woof in his favorite chair. Naturally, your G9 is in your hand and you quickly get the above shot using Program mode and ISO 80. The G9, being in Program mode with flash turned off, selected an exposure of 1/60 second at f3.2. As a result, the bright outdoor scene is overexposed and the indoor scene is underexposed. Flash is needed to bring up the interior lighting level. But if you use the built-in G9 flash, you can be certain of creating red-eye in poor Woof-Woof. You grab that big, expensive 580EX, fasten it to the G9 hotshoe and fire off another shoe before Woof-Woof knows what’s happening.

For this second shot, shown above, the G9, still in Program Mode but knowing that a Canon ETTL flash is in the hotshoe, again selected an exposure of 1/60 and f3.2. This is somewhat better but now it looks like a “flash” picture. Notice that the bright outdoor scene is still overexposed because the shutter speed and aperture have not changed. Determined, you remember about bounce flash, rotate the 580EX flash head towards the white ceiling and grab another shot.

Still in Program Mode, the G9 is convinced that 1/60 and f3.2 is the correct exposure; however, bouncing has softened the flash considerably as shown in the above photo. The outdoor scene is still overexposed. Suddenly you remember that a correct exposure for bright outdoors is given by the Sunny 16 rule as modified for the G9. Pretending to shoot the outdoor scene (only) through the window, sure enough: 1/500 and f5.6 is about right. You change the G9 to Manual Mode, set shutter speed to 1/500 and aperture to f5.6 and fire off a shot.

Finally, the indoor and outdoor scenes are properly exposed. Good dog, Woof-Woof!

Later you notice something odd: That last shot was not actually taken at 1/500 and f5.6 even though you know that those were the settings on the G9. That last shot was actually taken at 1/250 and f5.6. Checking the histogram, the outdoors is a little overexposed and the sky has a few blinking highlights. How could this have happened?

In Manual Mode with a Canon ETTL flash attached, the G9 will not allow shutter speeds faster than 1/250 second. If you set a faster shutter speed in Manual Mode, the speed will be reset to 1/250 when the shutter button is pressed. In fact, even if you turn the ETTL feature off, the G9 will reset from 1/500 to 1/250 shutter speed.

Even worse, ETTL was not in control of the 580EX when that last picture was taken. It was a fortunate coincidence that full 580EX power bounced from the ceiling was about right. ETTL flash control does not work when the Canon G9 is in Manual Mode. The output power of a Canon flash mounted on the G9 must be adjusted either on the G9 or on the flash when the G9 is in Manual Mode. I don’t like it but that’s the way it is -- same on all the G series cameras.

(Note: All pictures above were downsized from the unprocessed in-camera jpg for consistency. Some prefer a slightly overexposed outdoor view to preserve the effect. See the Strobist blog for many more variations on this idea.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

G9 and Sunny 16

My first camera, a Kodak Brownie, had no exposure controls. Years later, I had a fully manual camera with exposure controls but no light meter was included or needed. Instead of using a light meter, I simply followed the instructions included with every box of film. These instructions were the recommended camera settings for sunny or cloudy days, light shade, heavy shade, etc. Books and magazines also provided recommended exposures for various indoor and outdoor lighting scenes. Such exposure guides are still valid and useful.

A very useful point of reference for exposure is called the “Sunny 16 Rule”. The rule is that on sunny days where shadows are distinct, a correct exposure is f16 aperture when the shutter speed is set at 1/ISO second. For example, suppose the film (or digital sensor) has an ISO rating of 100. In bright sun, a correct exposure would be f16 at 1/100 second. If the ISO rating were 800, a correct exposure would be f16 at 1/800 second. Of course, given the nature of the f-stops and shutter speeds, there are many other equivalent combinations. For example, the exposures of f16 at 1/100 and f8 at 1/400 provide the same amount of light.

Going back to the Sunny 16 rule, if shadows are not so distinct, f11 might be a better aperture than f16. In deep shade or on overcast days where no shadows are created, f5.6 is recommended.

But the G9 does not have f16! The very nature of small sensor, small focal length cameras such as the G9 (not only the G9!) restrict the use of tiny apertures. Instead, we must adapt the G9 bright sun exposure to the Sunny 16 Rule. Actually, that exposure has already been given: f8 at 1/400 is equivalent to f16 at 100. The G9 does have f8.

I shoot my G9 at ISO 80 when possible. The reference exposure in strong sunlight would be f5.6 at 1/640 second based on the Sunny 16 Rule. However, it seems that f5.6 at 1/500 is often appropriate (even if not theoretically equivalent).

This has been a lot of numbers and there are many combinations but an understanding of the relationships between ISO rating, shutter speed and aperture is an essential part of being a photographer.

Hang on to this post or take notice of the blog labels because this will be used as a point of reference in future posts.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

G9 in Black and White

Black and white prints invoke art and visions from the past but there are many ways to get that artistic time travel effect from a digital camera. The Canon G9 (and a number of other cameras) includes a black-and-white mode so that black-and-white images can be made in-camera. This B/W picture was made in-camera with the G9 set for ISO 800. (To get to the black-and-white mode, press the Function button, scroll down to the My Colors settings and then scroll across to B/W.) A word of warning: When you set B/W mode on a digital camera, you will get a black-and-white image file – not a color image file. You may not be able to recover the color version of that picture. With the G9, by shooting in combined raw+jpg mode (a menu setting) with My Colors set to B/W, you’ll get a B/W jpg plus a raw image file. You’ll be able to process the raw file in color using any editor that will process Canon G9 raw files. I use Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS3.

Even though it is easy to get a black-and-white picture in-camera, I normally don’t set the camera to B/W mode because it is so easy to convert a color image file to grayscale. This conversion can be done several ways: a menu option in many editors (including Photoshop), extreme desaturation, choosing or converting the the color channels, various plug-ins, etc. In the past, my practice has been to shoot in RAW, open in color and then use Fred Miranda’s B/W Pro plug-in. This inexpensive plug-in works well and also lets you add grain or convert to a duotone, tritone, etc. This picture represents my previous workflow. It was shot at ISO 80 to minimize noise, processed in raw as a color image and then converted to B/W in Fred Miranda’s photoshop plugin. Grain was added in the B/W Pro plug-in.

Considering the new features in ACR, I’ve been experimenting with grayscale conversion directly from raw while developing in ACR. An interesting aspect of this conversion is noise reduction. In film based photography, the grain structure of the negative became not only visible but a problem, especially with high ISO film. One solution for film grain was to treat that grain as an asset instead of a liability. With digital photography, there is no grain but amplification creates electronic noise from the pixels. In B/W conversions from digital, it has become fashionable to treat the noise similarly to grain. Therefore, if a digital file is to be converted to B/W, the processing does not include noise reduction. The B/W picture shown here is from the raw file accompanying the in-camera jpg (first picture in this post). That is, it was shot at ISO 800, but processed in raw without noise reduction and converted to B/W in ACR. No grain was added and it was easy to do.

Taking another variation in ACR conversion, this picture is from the same raw file as the second picture in this post (the Fred Miranda conversion). It was shot at ISO 80 so there was little noise/grain to work with. This time the conversion from raw was done entirely in ACR and grain was added in Photoshop (not a plugin). The ACR conversion settings were identical to those used for the ISO 800 picture above.

Of course, the in-camera B/W jpg can be edited. This picture is the edited version of the first picture in this post. That is, it was shot at ISO 800 with the G9 set for B/W mode. The only adjustments were Levels and Curves in Photoshop CS3.

All the pictures above were made from only two shots but the lighting was slightly different for each. Again, the G9 was set to save the raw file as well as a jpg file. Don’t be confused by the slight differences in lighting or the fact that I bumped the tripod slightly.

As a result of conducting these little experiments and organizing my thoughts to write about them, I’m going to change my processing methods. Whereas in the past I shot in raw and used the Fred Miranda plugin to convert the color image to grayscale, in the future I’ll be doing everything in ACR. I’m still going to use a low ISO if possible because the image quality was just better at low ISO. If I want to add grain to simulate grainy film, I’ll do that with a Photoshop filter.

There are only slight differences in these particular images. By clicking on the picture you can see larger versions but the most significant factor was lighting and my personal choices of settings in Photoshop's Levels, Curves and Smart Sharpening.

The point is: Good black-and-white shots can be made from color digital cameras and there are many ways of converting from color to black-and-white. Try a few variations and find a workflow that suits your preferences and tastes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

G9: The Black and White of It

The very first photographs were monochromatic. The first “pictures I took” were black-and-white – not for lack of color technology or for the sake of art but because black-and-white film and prints were cheap and readily available. In a strange but fortunate turn of events, those old black-and-white prints turned out to be archival whereas the color dyes of those years have faded away. In fact, if you have color prints stored away, better scan them while there is something to scan!

Try to imagine how different our world of photography would be today if the chemistry for color photography had been obvious, easy and archival. Would black-and-white photos even exist? Why would anyone make a black-and-white photograph if it were easier to make one in color? With digital photography, we are nearly to that point; however, the basis for those color prints is still light sensitivity and color dyes. In other words, black-and-white technology is still around even if we are less aware of it.

Today when someone makes a black-and-white print, they are probably doing it for the artistic effect or perhaps to invoke a sense of nostalgia. I believe that traditional black-and-white print making (meaning film, paper and chemicals hand-processed in a darkroom) is well on its way to becoming the domain of a fine arts and crafts cottage industry. Meanwhile, you and I can easily get black-and-white inkjet prints from our color digital cameras that are nearly - but not quite - indistinguishable from traditional prints to many, if not most, people. Even better, if your darkroom skills were similar to mine, you can probably get a better black-and-white print digitally than you ever dreamed of getting in the darkroom.

(This post is getting a bit long, stay tuned ...)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dressing up the G9

I've installed four G9 accessories designed and crafted by Richard Franiec: Ring, Grip, Thumb Rest and Hotshoe Cover. The Ring is purely esthetic – a simple black metal ring to replace the original black and silver one. The Grip and Thumb Rest really do improve handling. The Hotshoe Cover is for protection and to prevent snagging. These are all simple ideas that have been very well accomplished by Richard. They fit the G9 so well that you probably don’t notice the difference in this picture. Take a closer look. You can actually see all four accessories in this photo (but the thumb rest is just barely visible on the back of the G9). Click on the image for a larger view.

The wrist strap is obviously not from Richard. For a small camera like the G9, I prefer a wrist strap to a neck strap. This one is for a Canon camcorder. I used a similar one for years with my Canon G3. However, I did not pay close attention to the mounting bar on the G9 – it is smaller than the mount on the G3. Therefore I had to add a small metal ring to the G9 mounting bar. I do like that particular wrist strap but don’t make the same mistake I did if the metal ring bothers you (I don’t like the ring).

Richard’s products were first conceived for the Canon G7. In particular, the G7 Grip has been very popular. Although the G9 is naturally somewhat more ergonomically friendly, Richard’s G9 Grip (not the same as the G7 Grip) is an improvement. I’m glad I bought it; in fact, I’m glad I bought all four accessories.

The Grip and Thumb Rest are easily installed by following Richard’s detailed instructions. Double sided adhesive tape holds the Grip and Thumb Rest in place -- just peel off the backing and press. Be sure to wipe the camera surfaces with alcohol to remove any skin oil. Also, be sure to practice installing before removing the backing!
The Ring is a simple replacement: remove the Canon ring and install Richard’s Ring. You’ll have to look closely at Richard’s Ring to get the correct orientation but this is explained in his instructions. The Canon ring has a tiny white dot that matches a tiny black depression on the body. Richard’s Ring is all black; it is oriented correctly when the shortest mounting tab is at the top. Both the Canon ring and Richard’s Ring must be removed to install the auxiliary lens adapter. Sad to admit, but both of my rings now have a white smear on the shortest tab (not visible once the ring is installed).

The Hotshoe Cover is Richard’s latest product. It simply slides into place on the hotshoe. The large engraced letter “G” (for “Gordon”, I assume!) is a very nice touch and indicative of Richard's attention to detail in all his products.

For more information, contact Richard directly at: