I, SO

Two ravens. Canon T100 & 50mm f1.8 EF

I was wading through HyperboleTube and came across a claim I hadn’t heard before: apparently we’ve all been lied too, having been told that we must use only ISO 100 … or else!

Hmm. That’s odd. Never heard that one before. It’s almost as stupid as the unfounded claim made by an infamous and allegedly professional photographer couple that ISO doesn’t matter.

Please tell me the majority of photographers in this world aren’t stupid enough to believe either claim!

Anyone who does has utterly failed to learn the underlying basic mechanics of photography.

Now personally I’m an old (very old) film-trained photographer and I like to use digital cameras as though they were film cameras. This means I tend to fix the ISO setting, usually at some standard film rating like 100 (as per the first claim). I have a couple of cameras that won’t go below 200 (which I often use even on the ones that do) and one that goes down to 80. There are not many times I’ve ever cranked it past 1600, except when experimenting.

So here’s the thing: ISO set too low means; 1). you may find yourself having to shoot at a large aperture and thus lose some depth of field sharpness; 2). the aperture needed may not be the best for sharpness;  3). you may find yourself having to slow down the shutter speed to where the image blurs even with stabilization; 4). you may not have enough light to get the shot at all. Whereas ISO set too high means; 1). you may need to use too small of an aperture to control the depth of field the way you want; 2). the aperture may not be the best for sharpness (which falls off in both directions from the optimum one for any given lens); 3). you may find the shutter speed ‘maxed out’; 4). you may have too much light to get the shot at all.

Okay, that’s the basics. The ol’ ISO/Aperture/Time business you probably already knew. Ergo ISO does matter, and only a moron thinks otherwise.

Now let’s look at the trickier aspect of it: how ISO relates to a particular camera.

First up, my almost dead Nikon P610. Great camera. Great lens. Tiny 1/2.3 16MP sensor. At ISO 400 the image noise is already noticeable. At 800 it becomes, for me, unbearable. Keep in mind that ‘noise’ is not the same as ‘grain’; an image can be grainy without being peppered with incorrect coloured dots in the field. Second up, my Canon T100. Great camera. Acceptable lenses from Canon, great if I stick an old manual Super Takumar on. Medium-sized APS-C 18MP sensor. It can manage ISO 800 without too much objectionable noise. Go above that and … not so good. Third, my Sony a6000. Great camera, aside from the tiny-size-accidental-button-pushing problem. Kit lens sucks, but I mostly use it with manual lenses anyway as it adapts them so easily. Again medium-sized APS-C 24MP sensor. This one can handle quite outrageously high ISO without the noise being a big problem. Why? Partly the pixels, but mostly a different sensor/processor/programming that handles the image information.

Three different cameras with three different abilities on ISO handling.

So, low ISO? High ISO? Let the camera choose? Which to use?

That depends on you; your shooting style, your camera, and the results you want/will accept. Just because I turn AWB off and fix ISO at 200 to shoot mostly telephoto images of wildlife in Program mode doesn’t mean you have to. Use P, A, T, or M as you see fit. Let the ISO and white balance go on automatic if you prefer. The reason why cameras have all these different setting is to get different results under the same conditions*.

Learn the rules, then learn when and how to ignore them. But don’t let any so-called ‘professionals’ tell you what you ‘must’ do, because that’s bovine fertilizer in a bag.

*I realize this is very close to the definition of insanity; repeating an action and expecting different results. But it is photography, after all, and it is an art form: some craziness is to be expected.

Film photography hits mainstream attention

Just thought I’d share this while I recover from the latest episode of being me:

Film photography resurgence

You know what that means? It means the already high prices on good ol’ film equipment will be pushed even higher because it’s now ‘pop media’, as it were.

Glad I don’t do film anymore (although the $20/roll cost was enough to stop me as it was).

Hey, maybe I can sell that Praktica LLC I picked up in the big lens deal! It’s probably now ‘worth’ more than the digital cameras I’d like to unload.

And a picture for those who like to see pictures:

Bald eagle, far away, a lot of optical and digital zoom at ISO 400 as well. Quite a bit of post-processing to bring it out; it was a grey day.

Whither photography?

Bad photo of the moon. The white dot on the right is Venus.

Premise: a desire to replace the ailing Nikon P610.

Solution: purchase a long telephoto lens for the Canon T100.

Selection: Sigma 150-600mm.

Problem: Many.

Let’s start with the price. It’s over $1,000, all said and done. That’s a lot of money to me. In fact if I had $100,000,000 I’d still think $1,000 is a lot of money – because I’m a cheapskate. Er, frugal.

Well recently it’s been “on sale” in the off-and-on method of modern con artistry. I mean merchandising. Yeah, that’s it; merchandising. Not con artistry. In any case the “sale” has amounted to a whopping 9% off regular price. Nine percent. Not even ten. This is with the Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Holiday Season sales allegedly trying to lure people to buy with low, low prices. I laugh scornfully at their pathetic attempts. The lens is 20% too expensive to begin with, and 9% off is just a joke. Our sales tax is 12% here.

Then there’s the “other thing”.

My last eye exam included such terms as “cataracts”, “glaucoma”, and “epiretinal membrane”. All of which can be treated to varying degrees of success, but with no guaranteed results for any. And underneath it all I still have the re-attached retina and cloudy aqueous humor complete with floaters. In other words the best that can be offered is not going blind rapidly. Definitely not any hope of return to fine vision. Now for most people this would not be an issue, but for a photographer … seeing the fine details is essential. I’m sure some of you have noticed the decline in quality of my work since The Last Picture? Instead of nine out of ten images being good, it’s one out of ten being acceptable.

Given those circumstances one has to wonder about the practicality of investing in any more photographic equipment of any type at any price.

Not-so-bad picture of the moon.

Well guess what

I have spent an entire day’s worth of hours reworking my computer. Upgrading, downgrading, replacing the hard drive and restoring backed-up data, programs, and settings … To be rewarded with only minor losses of images, downloaded data, and some documents. They’re on the ‘defective’ drive somewhere and I may yet be able to get them back.

Of course all is for nought because the damn thing still freezes. What’s more, despite this being an identical OS install to what I had before some things are different and don’t function right even when they function at all. I suspect some of it is hardware failure caused by heat due to laptops’ notoriously poor design for dissipating heat. Also I noticed the CPU usage pings 100% from time to time.

And it is just so much fun trying to deal with this when … well have you ever seen how small the screws are that hold these things together? Imagine it with my eyesight, which is something like this:

This is what you see.
This is what I see.

Not exactly conducive to precision close work. Or anything else. Like photography.

So I’m up the proverbial creek without a paddle or a canoe. If the thing had just completely quit and not put me through that false hope of repair I’d be happier. But …

Anyway. No solutions just now. Not for anything. Whether or not I post more pictures is kind of ‘iffy’: I have some already processed but I am loathe to do more for fear of losing them. I’ve lost thousands before, but not under circumstances where I could see it coming and thus should have avoided it.

Yeah I don’t know what I’m going to do now.

Re-learning curve: Nikon P610

Almost three weeks since getting my eye ‘welded’. Improvement seems to have stopped. At this point I’m not expecting any more.

Which brings us to the process of re-learning how to do photography when you have one not-so-good eye and one even worse eye. Especially since the latter used to be the good one. Also cameras tend to be designed for “right eye-ers” and that’s the one off the list now.

So with my usual analytical engineering ways I’ve broken the process down into three parts: imagining the image (or “finding something to take a picture of”), clicking the camera (or “actually getting something recorded”), and processing the pic (or “creating the final product”). Each of these has proven to be challenging, to say the least.

Imagining the image:

Big, big problems. Not only do I no longer see clearly but I can’t seem to pick out a scene within what I’m looking at. Before I could see multiple potential images in any given view, and now I have difficulty determining what I’m looking at. This is not some insignificant occurrence, but rather a thing that makes me question if the blood vessels in the eye weren’t the only ones that broke. There is a decided disconnection between what the eye presents and what the brain understands.

For the most part I have worked around this by ignoring the potential scenes of texture and detail, instead concentrating on the more basic form or object view. Not being able to pick objects out of a scene is still a concern, but if they are large enough in context of the view I can usually do it.

Clicking the camera:

I have my two ‘best’ cameras with me; the Nikon P610 and the Canon T100. The Nikon has its problems with focus, zoom, and exposure. Indeed a piece of it fell off the other day but I was able to find it (purely by chance) and glue it back on. It’s old and failing like me, but the lens is incredible and the camera is flexible. On the whole it’s working, even though the EVF in combination with my eye makes using the LCD for framing more attractive (albeit cumbersome). The Canon … not so much so. Not as flexible as-is, changing lenses is a pain and my experiments with the manual Pentax lenses (a favourite way of using this camera) were a disaster due to the changes in my eyesight. This camera relies more on the photographer, and the photographer is now sub-par. I have not had many good results.

Processing the pic:

Disaster. Of the three aspects this has proven the worst. Bringing what I think is a good picture up on the ‘big screen’ has resulted in a lot of disappointment and instant discarding of images. Looking at pictures on the cameras has never been good for me, and is now nearly impossible. The first thing that usually occurs is noticeable problems with framing, focus, and exposure. My left eye doesn’t see the view right, I can not tell at all if it’s in focus (and even look at the wrong place for the focus dot on the Canon), and for someone who could guess manual exposure accurately … Okay 80% of the images just aren’t worth trying to work with. That’s way down from 80% of them being perfectly acceptable.

Then there’s making actual changes. I can usually get the framing & composition corrected on the computer’s 15″ screen, but I’d now like a higher resolution laptop and possibly 17″. Exposure fixing has been a challenge because I’m really unsure of how it looks after I’ve changed it. Thus I have tried to limit things to the 10% contrast increase I know the Nikon requires and little else. Focus? I’ll try the “unsharp mask” off and on and see if it’s noticeable, and that’s about it. In other words processing is even more minimal than usual.

Now here are the best results with the Nikon P610 so far. I honestly don’t know if they are really any good and would appreciate input from people with working eyesight.

Day-Z. Most heavily exposure-processed of the images in order to get the contrast way up to achieve the desired effect. I hope.
Dark water, dark sky. Most dramatic and the effect is not due to processing.
Clear cut. Yes I turned this into B&W/sepia-ish on purpose to enhance the melancholy atmosphere.
Beach butterfly. Most straightforward image.
Paint it black. Distant spotter chopper in our smoke-filled skies. There was no colour.
Cat’s eye. Got to love the quality of that Nikon lens!

The wildfires continue to make everything extra difficult around here, from lighting to just breathing. Waiting it out and practicing with the cameras while I do. I thought about buying some more equipment but there’s really only two items I want and they’re both habitually over-priced. Besides, if I can even use what I’ve got more isn’t going to magically make things better.

I wait for the doctor to say the eye is as healed as it will get and I can go back to doing things, and wait for the fires to go out so I can go back to doing things, the things that need doing pile up. The ugly truth is I need to change my entire lifestyle, but I see no way of making that happen either.

What do you see?

Recently fellow photographer Robin Hogreve posted about how and why he shoots RAW format, which led me to comment on how his pictures look on my computer as opposed to his. This is an issue in the digital age; it’s no longer just a matter of what does a particular person’s eyes see, but what does their viewing screen present them with. Herewith I post four versions of one picture which tackles the difficult business of getting a snow image “right” (by which I mean looking as true to reality as possible).

Original, unprocessed JPEG image shot with the Nikon.
White balance automatically corrected in GIMP.
Brightness +20, contrast +10 to compensate for poor light exposure.
Cyan saturation turned down 100 because snow isn’t blue.

The final image is as close to what the scene actually looked like as I could get. It makes a difference which order the steps are applied too, as the computer uses the image content to judge how to make certain adjustments. Usually a white balance correction should be the first step, as colour temperature varies a lot in Winter.

Now artistically you might want the scene to look blue or darker or lower contrast in order to convey the mood of the time. But really the snow only looks blue around here in bright sun when it reflects our very blue skies (full of UV due to thin atmosphere at this elevation). That doesn’t mean you want it to look that way, though.

The question here is: which one looks best to you?

It would be interesting to look at these on several computers side by side and have several viewers judge the results. Art is in the eye of the beholder, but given the medium here we have to wonder if we’re getting across to the beholder what the creator intended.

By the way that’s a highway truck “winging back” the snow on the road shoulders with a “belly blade” and possibly dropping some sand as well to increase traction. It’s been a very nasty Winter, and it continues: just yesterday we got four more inches (10 cm) of the white stuff.

Misc.

Well it’s raining again. From the looks of the forecast I have showers to put up with off and on for sometime to come. This interferes with the current vital project of harvesting firewood. I don’t like getting wet and I especially don’t like working in a wet forest with the greater potential to slip and have an accident.

New wood stove at work.

Yesterday I ‘saw off’ all the neighbours so when I’m out here now I’m essentially alone. If something goes wrong I could be in big trouble. It has happened before, and I’m not younger or healthier now. Yes I’m too old for this.

It also isn’t any good for photography, all this rain.

Speaking of which, a few notes.

Some of photographers I follow have recently posted items that I am going to comment on in a non-specific way. This is not meant to be mean or insulting to them, just my observations.

Award Winners.

It’s great that you enter contests and win awards. Really. Not my thing but I am happy for you so keep it up and be happy yourself. I just want to say I’m amused by the fact the photos of yours that win prizes are not ones I would select from your efforts as being the best. This is more a comment on judging and competitions than your work. Hey I once won a poetry contest with the most trite piece of rubbish I’d ever penned. When you’re judged by other peoples’ tastes remember they aren’t necessarily any good. It’s fine that you can supply the right kind of photo to win, but the important thing is: are you making photos that you like? Please yourself and you’ll be happy.

Damsel

Film vs. Digital.

I notice some film images recently scanned and posted that were not sharp. I literally grew up taking film shots (insert the tired history: hundreds of cameras, thousands of images). This may be due to the scanning process, but since the same people use the same equipment and achieve different levels of results I can only conclude that sometimes film is not as sharp as digital (duh!). This is a milestone as there was a time when film, any film, had greater resolution. Other than a tendency to ‘blow out’ with overexposure, digital has unquestionably surpassed film in quality. If you know how to use it.

Sunset before the smoke came

Equipment, equipment, equipment.

I like new cameras. I like old cameras. I like digital cameras. I like film cameras.

I can only afford to use the digital ones I have, and fortunately four of them are more than good enough for my ‘professional snapshot’ style.

But I like cameras for their own sake. It’s the engineer in me. So I will read reviews of the latest Sony A7**** whatever, although I won’t necessarily want it. I will want cameras I can’t afford, usually for rather dubious reasons such as “I’d like to try it” or Eric L. Woods’ famous “because I like it” criterion. Mostly I dream about being able to pick up cheap digital to play with, like the Canon PowerShot A70 that I have or the old Kodak V1003 (both of which work, but have limiting defects now so don’t get used). The Fuji EXR is one of the best cameras I’ve ever had, especially for the <$75 price.

The point is that equipment can be a thing in and of itself, intersecting with the end result images. It is troublesome when you buy a lot and never use it, or buy something pricey which doesn’t give results (ahem, Lumix ZS60).

As such I’ve been focusing (pun intended) on the images more than the equipment lately. Mostly because the market for more equipment is not good where I am: poor selection and terrible prices.

Oh Red Cap!

Other notes.

I’m not terribly pleased with the way this WordPress work-around works, as it’s a pain to work with and limits my photo sizes to ‘small’. There’s probably some method of adjusting that, but I haven’t stumbled on it.

Life in general I shall not comment on. The world is a very depressing place right now, with little sign of improvement. Quite the opposite. My opinions on it won’t change anything, so I’ll just remain quiet.

Today I will bring in another load of wood, in the rain, and unload it, in the rain. Tomorrow … well I don’t know. The shed is about half full but I can’t count on the weather so I guess I will play it by ear and keep harvesting.

Sadly it looks like the Mrs. will not get to spend time out here this year. That was the main goal of my efforts too, but events conspire against it.

Try to be happy.

Exercising the Nikon P610

Every camera needs to be picked up and used now and again. It’s just good practice. In the case of this particular one, it also means I get a selection of good shots without even trying hard. No having to  post-process to make up for bad exposure here! Truly a fine piece of machinery.

DSCN2164
Cloud Stream
DSCN2168
The sunlight is over there
DSCN2169
Raven in the Aspen
DSCN2181
That is Venus
DSCN2192
Raven silhouette
DSCN2194
Frozen in ice