Circular Polariser

Latest photography gadget is a circular polariser, picked up quite cheaply from the global tat bazaar that is eBay. With the nights being long and dark, yesterday was my first chance to go out and have a play to see what difference it can make. I’ve included “before” and “after” photographs below.

Firstly is the “before” shot:

Before

Next the “after” shot:

After

Both pictures are exactly as they come out of my Canon 350D, with no post-processing applied. Both pictures were taken at ISO 200, aperture priority of f/11. Exposure times were 1/200s and 1/100s respectively. White balance for both was fixed at 5650K.

Notice how adding the filter brings out the blue in the sky, giving the clouds much more definition. Also note how the grass looks significantly more green – this is due to much less reflection of the sun off the foliage.

Final image is after some post-processing, with a bit of a better crop to ignore the ivy branch I missed in the viewfinder (my 350D doesn’t have 100% coverage, although I should have spotted that one). White balance has been corrected slightly and I’ve also cloned out the electricity pylon in the centre horizon and wires on the right hand side.

Final

Resolution – Does it Matter?

There’s a seemingly never-ending war on at the minute between digital camera manufacturers, and consumers appear to be getting taken in by it all. It’s one of the biggest selling points for a digital camera – the resolution, or in high-street terms the megapixel count. So does resolution really matter?

Put simply, for the average consumer, not really.

There’s plenty of cameras available now which have a resolution of 10-12 megapixels (MP). So are they any better than my Canon 350D, which “only” has 8MP? And what can my big, heavy, expensive camera do that your svelt pocket sized 10MP thing can’t? A friend once asked (referring to my £700 Canon lens) “so how many times zoom is that?”. Well, it’s a 70-200mm lens, so that would probably mean “nearly three”. “Only three? Mine has got 10 times zoom”. So what gives then?

For a quick demonstration, have a look back at my post about the religious pamphlet, dated 31st December. The image of that leaflet was taken using my camera on a tripod (see the post following it) and that produced a picture with quality far better than is necessary for a simply blog entry.

To highlight the difference, the leaflet itself was 4” x 5.5” and I’ve zoomed into a section of the woman’s head. Note that the zoom level is twice normal size: i.e. for every pixel on your screen, that’s two which appeared in the original image. The actual section of print you’re looking at below corresponds to about 0.75” on paper.

Woman's head

The first thing you notice is the grainy-ness of the image (click for a bigger version). That, though, is nothing to do with inadequacies of my camera. It’s actually the camera picking up the way the printing process works. I couldn’t believe it at first either, but apparently so. I had to go back and very carefully examine the original, only to find that there wasn’t anything wrong, but under very close inspection there was the print bubbles as seen above.

So how does it capture such fine detail? Well that’s because the lens is massive compared to all of the standard compact cameras. A bigger lens means more light is captured, which means a better quality photo. After all, that’s what a photograph is: just some light landing on a bit of film (or electronics in this case). Unfortunately, a bigger lens means it’s more expensive and heavier.

There’s also a bit to do with what happens to the light after it hits the electronics. In compact cameras, the camera makes a quick decision on what it deems to be detail that would never be noticed by your average punter and then throws it away. That’s right: at least half of the detail your compact camera picks up in a photo is thrown away before it even appears on the screen at the back of the camera.

There are two reasons for this: so that you can get more pictures on a memory card; plus it means that you can take the card out of the camera, plug it into a computer and you’ve got images. With my camera, it’s a bit different. Instead of throwing away stuff, my camera keeps it all and I go through each image deciding for myself what will look good and what will look bad. Yes, it means I use more memory up per picture and the process takes longer, but I think it’s worth it.

If you’re heading out to buy a camera, don’t be fooled by megapixel count.

Rain on my Parade

I mentioned at the very end of 2008 about my new tripod, and the fact that we were visiting the Lake District where we were seeing friends for a Christening. The hope was that I got at least half an hour outside with my camera to take some pictures, but that hope was quickly dashed when we arrived in the Lakes.

By the time we got there, it was dark (about 4:30) and not “town dark”, which is a sort of orangey-hue twilight; but “countryside dark”, which means it’s starlight, moonlight, or nothing. We had thick, low clouds which meant nothing was visible. Anything you could see was being blown around by the gale-force winds, so that ruled out any long-exposures too.

The next morning we needed to be at the Christening for 9:30 – 10 minutes drive from our hotel for the night. With a little one, that means getting up at 6 to get everything ready for the day ahead. We still managed to be 5 minutes late to the venue because I left my mobile phone in the hotel room. Problem was, we were godparents so couldn’t just sneak in at the back either.

After that was more gale-force winds, torrential rain and driving to another venue for a very nice n-course meal. I don’t remember exactly how many courses there were because I lost count. So no pictures there either.

I finally did manage to “get it out” (oo-err!) while at the second venue to take some family photos for the Christening party, though. It was worth every penny.

New Tripod

I’ve been umm’ing and and ahhh’ing over getting a new tripod for months now and I’ve finally taken the plunge.

The original one I had was kindly donated by my in-laws, but it was really designed to be reasonably cheap and for camcorder use. That means it lacks the stability and adjustability which is preferred when using still cameras. It was also quite small, meaning every time I wanted to use it, the legs were at full extension and I still needed to bend down low to look through the viewfinder. So I went and ordered a Manfrotto 055XProB tripod, with a matching Manfrotto 488 ball head.

It is a truly beautiful piece of kit and absolutely rock-solid. Height is spot-on – even without the centre column extended up high, the viewfinder is perfect for my eye level.

The centre column itself is very clever too. It can be raised and lowered to offer an extra foot or so of height, should you need it. The whole thing can also be flipped round 90 degrees to the horizontal plane so that you can take photos from a whole new angle – very handy for macro shots.

20081231_2192 Indeed, that’s how I got the photo for my previous blog post – put the leaflet on the table and setup my camera above it. From there, I just set ISO to 200, Av mode and set the aperture to f/11. Zoom in a bit to avoid using the lens at the widest zoom setting, while auto focus takes care of getting it right first time.

That keeps everything nice and sharp with the minimum of fuss. This needed a 1.5 second exposure, so use the self-timer mode to avoid needing to touch the camera when the shutter is being triggered.

The photo to the left is how the setup looked – plus it was about 1 minute’s work too: such is the ease-of-use.

Unfortunately, such ease-of-use and stability comes at a price. As far as tripods go, this wasn’t that expensive, which means it is made of traditional aluminium. Now normally aluminium is associated with being lightweight, but the modern alternative is carbon-fibre. These c-f tripods are very expensive – typically double the price of their aluminium counterpart.

So the only problem really is the weight of the thing: 3.2kg, or 7 pounds. If you want to walk somewhere, you need to add to this weight the contents of my camera bag: a Canon 350D, a Speedlite 580EX flash, lenses (x4), and various batteries. That makes my all-up weight when taking my camera out a fairly hefty 8.7kg (about 19 pounds). Even with all that mass though, my camera rucksack still feels good when properly strapped to my back.

The photo below shows a close-up of the setup, which includes the horizontal centre column and the ball head (the bit between the silver plate and the camera body).

Horizontal orientation

We’re visiting friends in the Lake District later in January, which should hopefully give me a few good photo opportunities in the winter sun for landscapes. I’ll report back here.

Bat!

Cool thing: there’s been a bat zipping round outside our house tonight. There was one lived locally last year and it looks like it (or some descendant) is back. I grabbed my camera and with the aid of my wonderfully-powerful Canon Speedlite 580EX decided to go outside and light up the neighbourhood for a bit.

Now bats flit around in unpredictable patterns at a phenomenal rate, so bearing in mind I was simply hand-holding the camera, with manual metering and manual flash exposure and operating the shutter myself, I was quite pleased to capture it at all. Best I managed was the following image:

Bat

Certainly recognisable as a bat, if not exactly Wildlife on One quality. The photo above is heavily cropped: the original looked like this:

Little bat

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