Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Strobist and the G9

The Strobist is also a G9 fan. In the latest post, he goes into more detail about how to get very high sync speeds -- up to 1/2500 sec -- from the G9 when using flash. There will be more such posts and details so be sure to stay tuned.

Here's my own post about high sync speeds with a Nikon flash on the G9 (OK, so I learned it from the Strobist) and a reference to other posts on using G9 flash.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My G9 Kit

From time to time, it is a good idea to clean out the old camera bag, take inventory and try squeeze in a few more accessories. While at it, I grabbed a quick shot of my G9 kit using my old G3. Actually, the G9 kit began life as the G3 kit. So here’s what I’m packing and how I’m packing it.

There’s really nothing particularly special about my G9 kit. I do prefer to keep all the G9 accessories together so that the kit can be scooped up on a moments notice. I almost always have this kit with me.

The bag is a Lowepro Nova Mini that I bought for the G3 about five years ago. It really does hold all the stuff shown. Notice the strips of gaffer tape across the inside of the top; gaffer tape is reusable (sort of). Sticking out of the front pocket are the connecting cables that came with the G9 as well as the G9 neck strap. I prefer to use a wrist strap (in front of the G9) adapted from a Canon camcorder.

My G9 is dressed up with Richard Franiec’s grip, thumb rest, hot shoe cover and black ring. To the left of the G9 is the Lensmate adapter with cover, a polarizing filter, graduated neutral density filter and a lens coupler.

Just barely noticeable, looping around the bag is a mechanical cable release and Richard Franiec’s cable release adapter. I use this adapter and cable quite a bit, especially when the G9 is mounted on a flimsy tripod like the little one in my kit. Just to the left of the tripod is the end of a small flashlight; it sure has come in handy on occasion.

To the right of the G9 is the charger and a stack of G9 batteries. More batteries, AA rechargeables for the flashes, are on the right hand side.

I’m studying Strobist techniques for off-camera flash so my G9 kit includes three strobes: A Nikon SB-28 , an old Quantaray MS-1 slave flash and a Holga 120. I don’t mount the Holga on the G9; it is triggered by the Cactus PT-04 wireless remote trigger. There are two Cactus receivers in front of the SB-28; the transmitter is in front of the G9 on top of the packing pouch that protects the G9 inside the bag. To the right of the Holga are two Nikon flash stands. To the right of the SB-28 is a diffuser with a bounce card propped inside. Just in front of the diffuser is a bag containing a slave trigger and connecting cord – just in case.

So that’s my G9 kit and, yes, all those goodies did go back into the bag.


Friday, April 18, 2008

G9 on Assignment

The "Strobist", David Hobby, has an interesting and useful post about using the G9 with Nikon flashes and high shutter speeds on a photojournalism assignment.

I regularly use my own G9 with the Nikon SB-24, SB-28 and the inexpensive (OK, cheap) Cactus wireless units. Here are some postings about G9 and external flash.

Compatibility List for G9 Flashes (please contribute your own recommendations)
Simple slave flash triggered by the G9
Flash attachments on the G9 external flash
Sync speed for G9 and non-Canon flash
LCD display with various flash setups
Using multiple Canon flashes with the G9


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Still More Variations on Bright Sky Processing

In what could easily become a never-ending presentation on variations in post processing, I’ll call it quits after this one. Previously, the scenario was that only one auto-exposure shot was taken of a scene with bright sky but dark foreground. The challenge was to get the best final image from either JPEG or RAW with simple post processing. Next, let’s consider a bit more involved post processing.

Show above are comparisons of the images made with a graduated neutral density filter (Image 4) from the first posting, a Photoshop simulation of a graduated neutral density filter (Image 11) and a Photoshop blend of two “exposures” (Image 12). Images 11 and 12 were made from the same raw file – only one real exposure – but processed twice in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

Image 11 was made from a raw file processed first with -1/2 stop of “exposure” (for the best sky) and then again with +1 stop of exposure (for the best tree/ground); this created two image files. In Photoshop CS3, the sky exposure (-1/2) was placed as a layer on top of the ground exposure (+1). The sky layer was then blended into the ground layer by using a graduated layer mask. There are many references and tutorials on this technique. Here are some links:

Sharon Lowe
Digital Camera Magazine
Luminous Landscape

A more involved variation on these ideas is shown on the Luminous Landscape – one of my favorite photo sites. Image 12 above was made with that blending process but simplified by using Fred Miranda’s DRI Pro plugin for Photoshop. First, using ACR, two variations on exposure, + ½ stop and – ½ stop, were made from the same raw file and then saved. These two variations were loaded into DRI Pro.

Of course, you can use two or more real exposures instead of simulating exposure variations in Photoshop. Image 13, below, was made from two real exposures, +1 and -1, using DRI Pro. And then, there’s High Dynamic Range (HDR) …

High Dynamic Range is a computer based method of combining several exposures to increase the tonal range. Some like HDR and some do not; in fact, sometimes I like HDR and sometimes not. HDR images can be a bit over-the-top according to the final processing -- the “tone mapping”. There are a number of HDR software packages available. I usually use Photomatix and/or the HDR features contained in Photoshop CS3. Some of my favorite images are HDR based.

Both Image 14 and 15 above were made from three exposures at -1, 0, +1 using Photomatix. For Image 14, tone mapping was done using the default settings – a somewhat gentle and conservative approach. Image 15 was done using a more aggressive tone mapping approach.

Of the infinite possibilities, I’ve shown 13 variations on the theme of photographing and processing images for scenes having a bright sky but dark foreground. The interesting aspect of all this is that each of these methods has a place and that someone – but not everyone – will prefer one method instead of the others. But then, that’s photography and photographers!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More Variations of Bright Sky Processing

Returning to tips and tricks about photographing scenes with bright sky but dark foreground after a bit of PowerShot news, here are more variations on processing. The scenario is that only one shot was taken and it was based on the G9 autoexposure setting for the full composition.

In the above comparison, Photos 3 and 7 are repeated from the previous posting. Photo 8 is similar to Photo 6 from the previous posting except that it was given additional recovery, saturation sharpening. I made Photo 8 because, after reviewing the previous posting, it seemed that there was an incorrect impression given about processing from raw. Therefore, Photo 8 is intentionally somewhat overdone with respect to saturation and sharpening.

Of course, the in-camera jpg can be processed in Photoshop. That is, suppose you took Photo 3 as an in-camera jpg only. On reviewing the photos later, you realize that there is little detail in the sky and that the trees are dark. You’d want to improve the photo and this is certainly possible, as shown below.

Photo 10 was made from Photo 3 with post processing in Photoshop CS3. Only two processes were applied: 1) “Exposure” was reduced by ¼ stop and 2) Shadow/Highlight recovery was applied rather heavily. These are both simple image adjustment settings in CS3 and took only a few minutes of tinkering. These adjustments were made to the original file which was then downsized and sharpened for web viewing. No other adjustments were made to get this nice “save” with Photoshop.

Although I almost always use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), there are other programs for converting from raw to jpg. I regularly use BreezeBrowser to view and select images. BreezeBrowser also can do some editing and can now process G9 raw images. My understanding is that BreezeBrowser uses the DCRaw program for raw conversions. Photo 9 was converted, downsized and sharpened entirely in BreezeBrowser.

My favorite is still raw plus a polarizing filter and processed in ACR but I’ll grant that the differences are not so apparent in these web sized images. Also, it is important to realize that saturation, contrast and sharpening can be further fine-tuned for any of the photos shown.

All images shown so far have been shot and processed as “single shots” with no dual processing. Next, multiple exposures will be merged.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Canon Powershot G10

To promote software development for its cameras, Canon provides a Software Development Kit (SDK) to approved developers. There are currently six versions of the SDK. In an otherwise routine notification of a new SDK for EOS cameras, Canon made some interesting statements regarding the Powershot series of cameras. Although the notification was dated April 1, I checked and it is valid.

A new SDK for Powershot cameras will be released near the end of 2008; however, it will be the last SDK for Powershot cameras. Also, the new and final SDK will not be Vista compatible. Powershot cameras released after 2008 will not be supported by an SDK.

New G, S and SX models are scheduled to be released this fall – probably no surprise to anyone. No details of those cameras were released in the SDK notification but the final edition of the Powershot SDK will support them.

SDK support for EOS cameras will continue and includes support for Vista.

Below are the FAQ as quoted from the SDK Powershot notification.

“Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

- When will the last PowerShot cameras that are supported by the SDK be released?
We cannot be specific about announcement and ship dates at this time, but it is safe to say that the last PowerShot cameras to be supported by Canon digital camera SDK will be announced and released in the 2nd Half of 2008.

- Do you have a projection on when the last camera that is supported by the SDK will no longer be available for sale?
Again, we cannot be specific, but we expect that the new G, S, and SX models to be introduced this year will continue to be sold at least through the 1st Half of 2009.

- Is it quite certain that Canon will no longer offer SDK support for the PowerShot series by end of 2008?
It is quite certain that Canon will no longer update its SDKs for PowerShot cameras after 2008. “

So there you have it. End of Powershot or end of Powershot SDK program?

Wonder what the new G10 will look like, be and do? Will it be the last "G" camera?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sky Too Bright?

Bright sky and dark foreground are not a happy combination for photographers unless both can be captured. This difficulty is not unique to digital photography. Although sometimes the available dynamic range of the digital camera (or film) is inadequate, often the light meter is simply fooled. The three photos above illustrate this problem. All photos were taken within a short time (but the clouds were moving quickly) with my G9 mounted on a tripod, evaluative metering, Av mode at f5.6, ISO 80 and shooting raw + jpg. The photos above were downsized from the in-camera jpg and sharpened for web viewing (PK Sharpener ) but are otherwise unprocessed.

For the bright sky problem, the hoped-for-solution is the “correct” exposure. Think about a bright sky scene from the point of view of the exposure meter. If there is only a little sky, then the exposure is based on the ground – 1/160 sec in Photo #1 above. If the composition is mostly sky, the exposure meter thinks there is a lot of available light – 1/640 sec in Photo #2. As the camera operator, uh, photographer, you might manually set an in-between exposure value. Some metering systems attempt to do this automatically; Photo #3 was taken at 1/320 sec as determined automatically by the G9. So Photo #1 has good ground but no sky detail; Photo #2 has a beautiful sky but dark ground; Photo #3 is sort of a blah in-between.

While taking photos 1, 2 and 3 above, the live histogram of the G9 indicated that Photo 1 was overexposed –a little more than a full f-stop. Photo 2 was slightly underexposed – about a half stop. Photo 3 is slightly overexposed – perhaps a half stop. So the “best” exposure would have been about f5.6 and 1/400 sec manual exposure (not very far off Sunny 16 for the G9) or by dialing in a -2/3 exposure compensation for Av mode. I didn’t get a shot at f5.6 and 1/400; however, I was shooting with +/- 1 auto exposure bracketing so I’m pretty sure of those relative effects.

I was interested in comparing the in-camera jpgs for normal, graduated neutral density filter and a polarizing filter; these photos are shown below (Photo 3 is repeated). Again, all photos were taken in Av mode using evaluative metering without exposure compensation.

In Photo #4, the 50/50 split, graduated neutral density filter (Tiffen ND 0.6) performed as expected but the upper clouds were darkened excessively. At 1/250 sec, it is slightly underexposed – perhaps 1/3 stop. Photo #5 shows the effects of a polarizing filter (Tiffen Circular). The filter was rotated for maximum sky detail. Unlike my G3, the effects of rotating the polarizing filter could be seen in the G9 LCD display. At 1/160 sec, the polarized exposure is just about right according to the histogram.

Nest is a comparison of raw and jpg; shooting in raw + jpg mode allowed a direct comparison. The third set of photos (below) compares Photo 3 (the in-camera jpg from the first and second sets) to the processed raw version, Photo 6. Similarly, Photo 7 is the raw version of Photo 5.

Both raw files (6 and 7) were processed in Adobe Camera Raw using the same settings. Surprisingly, no exposure adjustment was needed -- even though I’d previously noted that Photo 3 was slightly overexposed. The “Recovery” adjustment compensated for this highlight recovery. The ACR settings for Photo 6 and 7 were:

WB: Daylight
Exposure adjustment: 0
Recovery: 15
Fill: 10
Black: 8
Brightness: 40
Contrast: 0
Clarity: 40
Vibrance: 8
Saturation: 3
A “Medium Contrast Curve”
Sharpening: 80
Radius: 0.8
Detail: 30
Masking: 0
Luminance Noise Reduction: 0
Color Noise Reduction: 25

All other ACR settings were at zero. After opening in ACR, “Smart Sharpening” at 100 was applied in Photoshop CS3. No other post processing was applied.

In retrospect, I should have applied a bit more saturation to Photos 6 and 7 just for purposes of comparison to Photo 3 because Canon’s in-camera jpgs are a bit saturated (some say over-saturated).

Lessons learned? Well, I’ll continue to shoot in raw and will be using my polarizing filter more often.