Friday, September 26, 2008

G9 and ISO 400

Much is made of the fact that the G9 is a bit noisy and that noise increases at high ISO settings. In general, I agree. But I disagree with the oft-stated wisdom that the G9 is horrible or, at the very least, unusable above ISO 200. Although I’ll grant that the condemnation or acceptance of noise is largely a matter of taste, I find the G9 to be very usable at ISO 400 – especially if shot in raw mode, properly exposed and processed with noise reduction software. This shot of balloons is from the G9 in raw mode, ISO 400, 1/60 second, f5 using bounce flash. It was converted in Adobe Camera Raw, slightly cropped and tweaked in Photoshop CS3. Noise reduction was accomplished with Noiseware immediately after conversion from raw mode. The Noiseware setting was simply the default.

In my opinion, the G9 produces reasonable 8x10 prints at ISO 400 when shot in raw mode, converted in ACR and treated with Noiseware. In this digital age, many people do not print their photos and, if printed, most photos are printed as snapshots. I’ve posted a 1024x768 pixel version (full screen for many) of the balloons on my Smugmug gallery.

Of course, your mileage – and tastes -- may vary and I have no idea of the noise characteristics of the new G10. But if you have a G9, don’t be afraid to use ISO 400. At the very least, try ISO 400; you may be pleasantly surprised. (In fact, sometimes I use ISO 800 but that's another story ...)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Few More Seconds

Mike Johnston’s The Online Photographer is one of the sites that I check daily. Mike has another site, Photoborg, which is currently featuring old cameras and family snapshots. Photoborg articles have a short story or description along with the picture.

Yesterday’s Photoborg feature, my granddaughter Wesleigh, gives me a few more seconds towards my allocated fifteen minutes of fame.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

G10 Announced


Today Canon announced the Powershot G10 as the replacement for their G9. The G10 had been anticipated for months although there was much debate about the name and features. My own predictions – not perfect, but not too bad – were made in late July.

There are good summaries and preliminary reviews at Imaging Resource and DPReview . I’m sure those same sites will soon have more complete hands-on reports and sample pictures. Full size sample pictures from Canon have been posted although all are at ISO 80.

As for my own predictions, my biggest surprise is that the G10 has a new, wider angle zoom lens: 28 – 140 mm (using 35mm equivalent). I appreciate the wider angle even though some photographers wanted an even longer telephoto than the 210 mm of the G9. It was good to see Canon responding to the need for a wider angle zoom.

I probably will not be getting a G10. Although I’m sure that the G10 will be a good camera and it has some nice features – especially that wider angle lens -- the G10 is not really a major upgrade to the G9 for those who already have a G9.

This Light Description blog is sometimes said to be specific to the G9 but it really isn’t. My intention for Light Description has always been to create a platform for presenting my photographic thoughts, experiences and results as well as simply learning how to write a blog. In getting the G9 last year, I noted that equipment was not the limiting factor in my photographic efforts. Of course, since then I’ve bought more equipment – including the G9! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning to use the G9, pushing it to the max for performance, and blogging about the experience. In fact, I’m still learning to use my G9.

I use my G9 in some way nearly every day and have taken nearly eight thousand pictures with it. But I’ve used video only a few times, the voice recorder only once, and haven’t used the special scene settings at all. I have plans to test and write about the various exposure modes, light metering modes, more about noise reduction and high ISO, more about HDR , raw processing, software, etc., etc. I’m very interested in learning to use off-camera flash. Much of these thoughts and experiences will also apply to other cameras, especially the G7 and, I assume, the G10.

So Light Description will go on. Everyday several hundred readers check in; most readers have been particularly interested in the G9. Those G9’ers will see the emphasis continue on the G9 for a while and then gradually shift to general techniques even though the camera being used will probably be the G9.

But I really do like cameras …


Saturday, September 13, 2008

G9 File Size

The image produced by the G9 is 4000 pixels x 3000 pixels for a total of 12 million pixels. We say that the G9 is a 12 megapixel camera; I usually write this as 12 MP. So a G9 image file would be 12 megabytes (MB), right? Well, not necessarily and probably never exactly.

The in-camera JPEG file produced by the G9 is roughly 5 MB in size for the “Large, Superfine” description. Page 261 of the G9 manual gives estimated file sizes for the various JPEG and RAW settings but these are only estimates. The file sizes are smaller than might be expected because, as noted previously, JPEG files are not only compressed but also are lossy; that is, some data is discarded during the compression process. The results of the mathematical algorithm for lossy compression vary with the content of the image file. In other words, file size varies with the picture so you never know the file size until after the picture has been taken.

To see for myself how the file size varies, I put my G9 on a tripod and photographed a mundane scene of my messy bookcase – which you will not get to see. I set the G9 on Large, Superfine JPEG, wide angle, manual exposure at 1/10 second, f2.8, auto white balance and took 22 pictures. Why 22 pictures? Well, I varied the contrast, sharpening and saturation for every picture. File sizes ranged from 4561 KB to 5741 KB. Remember: the scene and lighting was identical for each picture.

Using My Colors, I varied the Custom Color setting for contrast, sharpening and saturation. For those settings, considering the mid-point (“Normal”) as being zero (0), I took pictures at the low extreme, the Normal and the high extreme; I think of these settings as being -2, 0, +2. Here are some examples of files size:

Cont Sharp Sat Size, KB
0 0 0 5142
-2 -2 -2 4596
-2 -2 0 4561
-2 0 0 5070
0 +2 0 5532
0 0 +2 5265
+2 +2 +2 5565
-2 +2 +2 5741

In comparison, a RAW file was 13,600 KB and the accompanying JPEG at Large+Fine (not Superfine) was 3089 KB when the settings were 0, 0, 0.

A quick linear regression analysis shows that the amount of sharpening has the most significant effect on file size, followed by saturation. Contrast has the least effect on file size. (Note: The linear regression does not provide an exact match. It predicts the smallest file size at -2, -2, -2 and the largest at +2, +2, +2; however, the correlation is pretty good.)

My explanation? Sharpening tends to increase apparent detail and those details – whether real or not – are not as compressible. I was a little surprised by the effect of saturation and contrast. I actually thought that reduced saturation and contrast might increase the file size but this was not the case. Finally, there is a cross correlation between these three variables but it is not very significant with regard to file size.

My conclusion? I still shoot mostly in RAW mode. When I do shoot in JPEG, I usually leave the contrast, sharpening and saturation at “Normal” but this is more of a convenience than a strong preference.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Watching the Storm

Here’s my favorite photo from Hurricane Gustav. My granddaughter wasn’t really watching the hurricane but the wind and rain continued for a while.

This shot was taken with my G9 in raw mode, ISO 400, max zoom, f4.8, 1/60 second. The small Flexizone frame was used to focus. My granddaughter is quite active and quick but was captivated by the scene and stayed at the door long enough for me to check exposure in Av mode, see that the histogram wasn’t right, shift to manual exposure and get a good histogram. One shot and she was gone!

Processing in ACR from the raw file, I decided to let the back of her head and dress go a bit dark. At ISO 400, noise begins to be noticeable with the G9, especially for enlargements, so I used Noiseware at about half strength to reduce the noise.

The final 8x10 print was cropped only slightly from the original capture. I like it.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gustav – Day Seven

This morning in church, by a show of hands, roughly a third of the congregation was without electric power at their house. The newspaper report is that, by the end of the day, power will have been restored to half of Baton Rouge.

Some traffic signals are operating; others are not. People are driving very carefully.

This evening, my son noticed that our cable service, including Internet, had come back to life.

I took a few pictures, but not very many, during Gustav and will post some during the next few days. With no power and a heavy overcast sky, I used higher ISO than normal with my G9. Although many gripe about G9 noise at high ISO, it is actually very useable at ISO 400 and even 800 with a little post processing. My judgment was that available dim light and high ISO was more representative of the situation than if flash had been used.

We now resume our normal programming …

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gustav – Day Six

Electric power and air conditioning are still working fine. We take these conveniences for granted until they are no longer available.

In the general Baton Rouge area, the overall situation is considerably improved. More and more houses have electric power although many – perhaps even most -- are still without power. More gasoline stations are open and waiting lines are virtually non-existent.

Now we have Hurricane Ike to worry about. My wife and I decided to restock today in anticipation of Ike. We bought groceries and general supplies. I bought $85 worth of gasoline for the generator. $85! How times have changed! I was happy to get the gasoline.

Although many stores and businesses are closed, I did a bit of shopping. Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Lowes and Home Depot are open and doing a brisk business. All have generators. Roughly $800 for a 5500 watt generator – somewhat the same as my own. Interestingly, no stores have large gasoline cans. I saw several people buying a generator and a “bubble pack” of six two gallon gas cans.

The general operating procedure with a generator is to power a refrigerator, a small window unit air conditioner, several fans, a few lights and a radio. If you also have a freezer or two window air conditions then you alternate between those units. Gasoline consumption is roughly six to eight gallons per 24 hours of operation.

I finished the day by doing more yard work but some of this was routine. I’m ready for routine.

Gustav – Day Five

We slept late and awoke to a house somewhat warmer than expected. The air conditioning system was not working! We had electric power but there was an obvious problem with the air conditioning. A quick check of controls and circuit breakers confirmed that there was a problem I could not personally resolve. Expecting no answer, I telephoned the company that had installed the system. To my surprise, the call was answered and a technician was in the neighborhood within an hour. A large capacitor had failed but the technician had a replacement in his truck. The part was in warrantee and I gladly paid a service charge. The entire episode is still unbelievable to me but we again have a cool house.

I’ve continued to write but have been unable to post to this blog. Today, with my own Internet service inoperable, I’ve made several postings by connecting to a neighbor’s wireless system. My own system is through a cable modem but my neighbor has a DSL system. Thanks to my neighbor, I spent the day “at work”.

TV, radio and newspaper continue with dire predictions about two to three weeks without electric power but it seems to me that the overall picture is somewhat better than is being presented.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Gustav – Day Four

Our fourth day of recovery from Gustav was spent in our car – but at least we had air conditioning! We drove to Jackson, Mississippi to transfer my mother-in-law to my sister-in-law for a few months. All along the way, we saw damage from Gustav but the degree of damage decreased as we went east and north from Baton Rouge. Near McComb, Mississippi we began to see signs of available electric power and short lines at gasoline stations. There was a lot of southbound traffic that we assumed to be New Orleans evacuees. In addition, we saw a number of utility trucks from northern electric companies that were heading south. It took us four hours to get to Jackson but almost six hours to return as we mixed in with that traffic.

While in Jackson, we replenished our supply of gasoline for the generator. We were down to our last five gallons – about a day’s supply. On the return trip through McComb, we topped off the tank for the car because very few stations were open in Baton Rouge and the lines were extremely long. In fact, the police department was overseeing traffic into the gasoline stations.

About an hour from our house, our son-in-law called to say that the official timetable for restoring power to our area was two weeks! We were not expecting such a long outage. On arriving, we were shocked (no pun intended) -- estatic is probably a better description -- to see that electric power had been restored to our neighborhood. What a homecoming present! Apparently our loss of power was due to a single broken overhead line. Naturally the electric company was looking for simple fixes to restore power to groups of homes and we were among the lucky early ones.

Before leaving the house, we had turned off all the electric appliances, air conditioning, etc. What a pleasure to walk around turning things ON!

Gustav – Day Three

In many ways, today was more of the same: generator, recharge batteries, yard work, constantly changing a power cord from the refrigerator to the freezer. The yard work today was mostly moving things from the garage back to the yard and patio areas.

It was a hotter day today and I spent more time indoors and watching my little Sony Watchman TV. This is an old B/W personal TV. It has poor reception, a bad picture and weak audio but I always drag it out during power failures. I suppose it will not survive the digital changeover. But I know a bit more about the overall situation in our area.

The reports now are that this is the worse storm damage that the Baton Rouge area has seen. Power outages are expected to extend for up to two weeks.

My cell phone (Blackjack II) has been working fine today as an Internet (3G) browser and retrieving business and personal email; however, the normal cellular voice service has been out. Late this afternoon, the AT&T cellular service suddenly became available again.

My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter have left Baton Rouge for his mother’s home in Gulfport, Mississippi. The lure of electricity is overpowering!

In fact, tomorrow my wife and I will take my mother-in-law halfway to Tennessee. We will meet my wife’s sister somewhere near Jackson, Mississippi and my mother-in-law will spend a few months in Tennessee. On the return trip (also tomorrow), we will replenish our gasoline supply for the generator.

We’ve decided to run the generator all night tonight as the refrigerator, freezer and house are slowly but surely warming up.

Gustav – Day Two (afternoon)

We spent the afternoon cleaning our yard, straightening the fallen trees and drinking lots of cool water while working in the upper 80s temperature. I was glad for the cloud cover that kept temperatures below the typical mid-90s. Strangely, we had little rain. We are just south of Baton Rouge and apparently north Baton Rouge received a lot of rain.

The little window air conditioner plus a couple of fans works wonders for keeping a reasonably cool room downstairs.

Stating the obvious, duck tape sure is handy. Fortunately I can rarely walk past the display without buying duck tape.

My nephew lives in Baton Rouge near LSU and found, to his delight, that his apartment has electricity! My daughter and son-in-law visited their house, about five miles away, and found it undamaged but without electricity. The local TV news reported that 221,000 homes in the greater Baton Rouge area were without electricity; this is probably more than half of the homes in the area.

Cell phone service is somewhat iffy. I’m getting emails and text messages but sometimes have difficulty sending. I can log onto the Internet but the connection is usually lost within a few minutes.

Time to shut down the generator and call it a night.


Gustav – Day Two (morning)

Continuing with personal reporting on Hurricane Gustav from Baton Rouge, Louisiana...


Up early this morning and already the drone of the neighborhood generators filled the air and the ears. My own generator soon joined the choir. Although it made me feel a little guilty, I plugged in the coffee maker first. After the coffee was ready, the coffee maker was unplugged and the generator connected to the freezer. The other major power drain on the generator is the little window unit air conditioner. Otherwise, the generator is running fans and lights.

We set up a little table next to the generator as a recharging station for all flashlights, cell phones, etc. This table had the fourth and shortest extension cord from the generator. All day we swapped our rechargeables in and out – including this computer.

Except for Gustav, this would have been a regular work day for me and I had already scheduled two lengthy telephone conferences. Since our land line was functional, I was able to participate in those telecons albeit somewhat abbreviated. Of course, everyone wanted to know the local situation but all I could say was that we were OK although without electrical power.

After my morning telecons, I took a walk around the neighborhood and found most neighbors were in about the same fortunate situation; no power, some landscape and tree damage, somewhat relatively minor and random house damage – mostly to trim. Most of our neighbors have generators and were using them. Some people had left the area in anticipation of Gustav but most had remained.

From my neighbors, nephew and son-in-law, I learned that our general area and most of Baton Rouge is in quite a mess. Almost all of Baton Rouge is without power. Most businesses are closed, government workers told to stay home, etc. Without power there are no traffic signals and our already crowded roads now have the New Orleans evacuees as well. Very few gasoline stations are open and everyone seems to be lining up to buy gasoline. It was easy to conclude that there was no need to leave my house.

Gustav – Day 1 (Afternoon)

Of course, right after eating our nice meal, we lost power while loading the dishwasher. So we had a stack of dishes to do the old fashioned way. I was surprised to lose power so early in the storm. We still have water and gas. The gas stove won’t light automatically but we have a separate lighter for it.

Wind and rain increased steadily and peaked about 2 to 3 o’clock. We watched as three new trees in the back yard and one in the front were slowly but surely pushed over by the wind. These trees were part of the landscaping for our new house and had only those four years to establish a root system. I’m hoping that we can “un-lean” them and hold them in place with ropes and stakes.

In addition to the trees, a downcomer from the gutters blew off. That seems to be the extent of our damage. We are very fortunate. A quick look up and down our street indicates that most of our neighbors fared about the same.

My mother and sister as well as my son-in-law’s family – all on the Mississippi Gulf Coast -- came through Gustav without damage and with electric power.

I cranked up the generator about 5 o’clock and it has been running ever since. A light drizzle rain was still falling but the generator is sort of protected from it. First we connected the generator to our freezer and a small window air conditioner as well as several lights and fans. After a few hours, I switched the power from the freezer to the refrigerator. The generator will be turned off during the night.

The TV cable system is down. We’ve watched a bit of the news on portable TVs and listened to the news on the radio. It seems that Baton Rouge had more damage than I expected – especially loss of power. There is a curfew on driving until tomorrow morning.

Our old fashioned landline telephone still works but the wireless units do not. I could connect the wireless base unit to the generator but there is no real need to do so. Our cell phones work fine and I’m even receiving email via my BlackJack.

My son did a neat little trick. We had about a dozen solar powered yard lights scattered around the landscaping. He took those little lights, recharged all the batteries before the storm and now has them scattered around inside the house. Just that little bit of light really helps in getting around and they will stay on for hours.

Tomorrow I’ll get up early and crank up the generator again – kind of like going out for firewood and building the breakfast fire, I suppose. Of course, you’re supposed to gather the firewood the day before and my gasoline cans are indeed full.

I’m typing this blog entry by the light of a small flashlight and the glow of my notebook computer knowing that it can’t be posted for a while but also wanting to get these thoughts down while in the mood.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gustav – Day 1 (Morning)

Yesterday I switched my emphasis from photography to personal reporting on Gustav. Here’s my report on the morning of the first day near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Last night, I mentioned the concern about tornadoes. Sure enough, just after posting that entry, a tornado warning popped up on the television and radio. The announcement even indicated that the tornado was heading towards my house and would arrive in about 15 minutes. Fortunately, that tornado passed several miles to the south and probably did not touch down.

This morning, we awoke to a stormy day knowing that the weather would continually get worse. Actually, except for knowing that a hurricane was approaching, the early morning weather wasn’t too bad. On the other hand, it was that kind of gusty wind and sheets of rain that precedes a hurricane.

My daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and nephew have temporarily moved in so we have a houseful of folks. While helping with that move, I was on the road a little while early this morning. The roads were almost empty. I was surprised to see a few trees down and several limbs broken. A few power lines were down.

We still have electricity but are seeing reports of power outages already; kind of surprising. We’ve turned down the temperature in anticipation of losing power. My wife is cooking a big meal. People usually eat very well under these circumstances. Knowing that a power outage is coming, it seems reasonable to take food from the freezer and cook it instead of losing it to the hurricane. OK, maybe we just like to eat!