Indy's Camera Review - Digital SLR's
Usage Notes
©2009 James Melatis -
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Photography 101
Rule #1: Avoid blurry or soft images when shooting hand-held by setting the shutter speed fast enough.

If the subject is moving, if you are shooting hand-held, or if you want to freeze the action, try using a faster shutter speed, 1x to 2x the focal length setting of the lens. Always consider that the longer the focal length is, the more sensitive the camera is to motion if the camera moves a little. The old rule for film cameras is the minimum shutter speed is the reciprocal of the focal length. Set the focal length, then calculate the shutter speed. 300mm = 1/300 sec. or faster. If there is enough light to get away with it, the faster the better. It is hard to get a blurry image at 300mm at 1/1000 sec.

Rule #2: Great photography is always about having enough light in the right places. Often there is not enough light to use the calculated ideal shutter speed from rule #1, so you must increase the ISO, AND/OR get additional light, AND/OR open the aperture (lower F Number). Remember, opening the aperature decreases the depth of field.

OR ELSE use a tripod to minimize shake with a slower shutter speed to let in more light.

OR ELSE you might be able to use a shorter focal length, re-calculate the shutter speed, and get closer to the subject.

OR ELSE if the focal length is short enough to put you within flash distance, there is always the speedlight.

Rule #3: If widest available lens aperture is still too small to allow the calculated shutter speed, increase the ISO, get additional light, or use a faster (lower F Number - wider aperture) lens!

The lower the F Number, the wider open the aperture is, and the more light is let into the camera. If you get the subject in focus, the minimum exposure, and don't care that the background is blurry, let the camera pick the aperture setting and don't worry too much.

This really becomes an issue if you are using aperture priority, flexible program, or manual to deliberately stop down the lens (higher F Number - narrow aperture) to increase the depth of field. It is completely contrary to rule # 1 and 2. This depth of field technique usually works best in bright sunlight where the subject is still. In this case, you can use a tripod and set the shutter release timer to minimize shake with any shutter speed. If you are shooting hand-held when stopping down (narrow aperture), the trick is to find the right balance of narrow aperture, increased ISO, and a steady hand or faster shutter speed.

Rule #4: Set the exposure value to EV +0.0 to start each new setting, take a test shot, and then adjust as needed. Always use the histogram and flashy highlights display feature.

If it's flashing, it's over exposed and you have lost some details photoshop can't get back. After setting the EV, re-take the shot as bright as you can without blowing out any highlights. Don't worry if it still seems a little dark at this point, you can fix it with photoshop while preserving the details.

Rule #5: It's not Video.

When learning D-SLR exposure and photoshop techniques, think prints, not video display. For great prints, lower or raise the EV according to the lighting conditions but try to keep the EV lower taking care not to under expose too much. To really understand this point, try bracketing some different exposure values under similar background and lighting conditions. Print the samples un-modified and compare the inkjet prints to what you see on the monitor. You will find that even when the image seems under exposed and looks too dark on the monitor, it usually makes the best prints on glossy paper.

The reverse is also true. If you increase the brightness in photoshop or raise the EV when taking the shot to get the image to look perfect on the monitor for a web photo, the image almost always looks washed out, contrasty, or loses important details when printed. Don't do this to your only copy of the image if you plan to make prints or get your image published later.

Overall, the best solution is to simply learn the difference between what is on the monitor and what it will look like when printed. Generally darker and more saturated works better for prints, so try increasing the saturation and reducing the brightness with photoshop before printing. Once it is in photoshop, you will get the best results if you make three versions, the original, one optimized for printing, and one optimized for video display. Understanding the difference between print and video results will greatly improve the quality of your inkjet prints and web photos, and certainly will waste less ink and paper.

Rule #6: Pay attention to what the camera is metering.

Bright or pitch dark, use 3D matrix metering when the background and subject is uniformly lit or uniform brightness. Switch to spot metering when the subject is opposite brightness from the background. The background may be lighter or darker than you want, but the subject will be properly exposed. If you are out in the field without the option of adding fill lighting, one trick is to zoom in to get rid of the contrasting background, and then use matrix metering.

Rule #7: Be careful not to set the ISO too high.

By increasing the ISO, you might get the calculated shutter speed you need to freeze the action or camera movement with available light. The faster shutter speed will help to prevent blurry or too soft images. However, if you increase the ISO too much, the image will get noisy. Instead of blurry, you get grainy. Also, colors are more saturated at 200 than 800 ISO. Try for 200 ISO for stills with a tripod if you have good light, experiment with 400 to 500 instead of 200 ISO when shooting hand-held, and watch out for noise issues above 500 ISO.

Rule #8: Stay within the usable detail range of the lens. Unless you are "in the moment" or unless the bear wants to eat you, always get out your tape measure and check some distances prior to the shoot.

Soft focus can be a problem with dirt in the lens, a bad lens, lens contact, low battery, or just camera shake. If you suspect the lens or camera, try a still at the same settings and conditions with the camera on a tripod. If the problem goes away, the lens is probably fine. Usually the subject is just too far away for the focal length you are using. Unless you are shooting landscapes with the lens set to infinity, keep your subject within the usable detail range of the lens. 50mm lens = 50 feet maximum to subject. 300mm Lens = 300 Feet maximum to subject. Most often, it is not a problem with the focus at all, but blurry images. The image looks soft or out of focus because the camera or subject moved during the exposure. (See Rule# 1)

More D-SLR Usage Notes: (In no particular order…)

Set the in-camera sharpening to HIGH and leave it there.

Set the color mode to Adobe RGB and leave it there.

Always take advantage of the highest resolution and quality. Shoot RAW, the largest size, uncompressed. You can always crop or scale down in Photoshop. I have saved many shots this way that otherwise would have been unusable.

Instead of the USB cable, use a card reader to transfer files to your computer and save battery power.

For too soft JPEG's, just set the in-camera sharpening to HIGH and try to concentrate on getting the exposure and focus right. The best fix is to shoot RAW and sharpen if needed in post processing. For the best quality, it's better to shoot RAW anyway.

Get each lens it's own UV/HAZE filter, and keep it on at all times. $30 is cheap insurance against a scratched $600 lens.

Always keep a lens or body cap attached to the camera body at all times.

Keep in mind that like film, if you over expose the sensor, you loose information that can't be replaced later.

Like film, if you under expose too much or don't have enough light, the picture gets too noisy or grainy.

When learning proper exposure techniques, think prints, not video. (See Rule #5) Understanding this difference will greatly improve the quality of your prints.

Remember that the camera can see things that your eyes can't, like colors at night. A 15 second time exposure at midnight and the same shot in auto at noon is capable of producing the EXACT same color print, except the night shot has stars in the sky, and the day shot has shadows.

Be careful when changing lenses so as not to damage the CPU contacts. Replace the caps on both ends of the un-used lense immediately and put it away to prevent dust or fingerprint smudges.

Like any tool, it is only as good as the operator. You have to learn its quirks and workarounds. Practice, practice, and practice. Consider that a true photographer can probably take better pictures with an oatmeal box, than a novice can with the best fully automatic camera available.

You might want to shell out $700+ for the latest Adobe Photoshop. Make sure the camera comes with Photoshop plug-ins for the camera's RAW Format.

You also need a fast computer with lots of memory and disk storage to handle the very large images.

At the very least, to get the best results, expect a lot of post processing and consider the additional workflow.
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