Archive for the ‘nikon’ Tag

The Camera In My Hand   2 comments

I own 3 cameras.  None of them are perfect for every shot.

Cellphone

I have a 2-year old smartphone, an HTC Thunderbolt.  It shoots 8 megapixel images.  Unfortunately, as you’ll quickly find when you examine the differences between cameras, one megapixel isn’t necessarily like another.

The images taken by cellphones have improved, but they are still inferior to a quality point & shoot or a good SLR.  Cellphones are OK for close images in a well-lit environment … such as the classic self-portrait taken in front of a mirror.  Want to take a picture of your buddies for Facebook?  Perfect.

Want to shoot a vacation picture for printing in a photo book?  That won’t work so well.

Here’s a photo review that shows you some examples.  Unfortunately, there’s just nothing to be done to improve a cellphone photo taken in a challenging environment.

This Smartphone photo shot at LA Live would have been great if the proper equipment could have been used. Shot with a  Smartphone?  Not even worth posting to Facebook.

This Smartphone photo shot at LA Live would have been great if the proper equipment could have been used. Shot with a Smartphone? Not even worth posting to Facebook.

Point & Shoot

My 4-year-old point & shoot camera is a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90.  It’s about the same size as the cellphone … still easy to slip into a pocket or purse.  With a 2 gig memory stick, I can take 246 pictures, that are also 8 megapixel images.  It’s got a 3x zoom, which gives you much more flexibility than most cellphones (though some do “electronic” zooms — they don’t actually move lenses to have an actual zoom).  The quality of the pix are much better than a cellphone, though they are still soft around the edges.  Here’s a review that found their test camera had a slightly misaligned lens.

Well, what do you expect for $150?  A typical point & shoot will take better pictures than a cellphone … but the pictures will still be limited.  Here’s a sampling:

A point & shoot's zoom is handy for focusing attention on a distant object ... such as the superstructure of Mighty Mo, in Pearl Harbor.

A point & shoot’s zoom is handy for focusing attention on a distant object … such as the superstructure of Mighty Mo, in Pearl Harbor.

Distant focus points and inadequate lighting totally overwhelm a point & shoot's capability.  The flash can throw 10' at best; it was of no use in this lava tube.

Distant focus points and inadequate lighting totally overwhelm a point & shoot’s capability. The flash can throw 10′ at best; it was of no use in this lava tube.

A beautiful sunlit day, and you'll get wonderful snapshots with a point & shoot.  The focus on the edges is noticably softer (at least when you enlarge the photo!), but the photo is great for most purposes.

A beautiful sunlit day, and you’ll get wonderful snapshots with a point & shoot. The focus on the edges is noticably softer (at least when you enlarge the photo!), but the photo is great for most purposes.

Nikon D7000

I love my Nikon, which is a good consumer grade DSLR (digital single lens reflex, which means you actually look through the viewfinder to see through the lens).  Most of the photography on this blog was taken with the D7000.

This camera will accept two SD chips simultaneously, so you can shoot hundreds of photographs without changing storage media.  You can also vary the quality of the image … so if you choose to shoot low quality images (WHY???), you can get more on each chip.  I shoot the highest quality in both RAW and .jpg formats, and still can shoot 600+ images with my 2x 16 gigabyte chips.

That’ll get me through any day of shooting I’ve done so far!

I principally use 3 lenses … each of which cost more than most point & shoot cameras.  The cost of my gear means I’m unlikely to leave it in the trunk of the car; I carry it in to restaurants and shops.  Call me paranoid.

The bulk of the gear is also a challenge.  The camera + lenses + bags weighs pounds, not ounces.  When I’m hiking, I’m also constantly changing the lens on the camera body to get the “perfect” shot, which adds to the time needed to use this more complex photo rig.  On the other hand, I’m able to get photographs that are clearer than anything I could get with a point & shoot.

This picture of my in-laws was shot in their backyard last summer.  The depth of field and brilliant colors are just outstanding!

This picture of my in-laws was shot in their backyard last summer. The depth of field and brilliant colors are just outstanding!

Add a tripod, a flash and any other extraneous gear, and you’re simply not able to travel easily.  You travel heavy with a DSLR … but the results can be wonderful.

This shot of our mantle was done from a tripod, with a remote shutter release.  Even the vibration of your hand hitting the button can add shake to the camera; it becomes more noticeable in low light photography.

This shot of our mantle was done from a tripod and remote shutter release. Even the vibration of your hand hitting the button can add shake to the camera; it becomes more noticeable in low light photography.

I’ve found that the camera simply isn’t allowed in some venues.  Sporting venues like the Rose Bowl and Staples Center won’t allow you to take your DSLR into events, so you are restricted to smartphones or point & shoots unless you are a working journalist.  Same goes with most trade shows, unless you have an approved media sticker on your gear.  No sticker?  Security is trained to turn you away.

The Camera In My Hand

So which camera do I use?  The D7000 when I can carry it.  I sometimes have to be “encouraged” to get it out by Velda, who makes sure I avail myself of every opportunity to capture every expression of our lovely granddaughter.

And that’s a good thing.

But it is a commitment.  Carrying a small point & shoot is much simpler, and the photos will work if you’re looking for a snapshot … and not shooting more than 10′ from the lens.  Push beyond that limit, and you will find the results will not always be good.  You’ll always have your smartphone close at hand (right?), but if you intend to use your photos anywhere but Facebook, I believe you’ll be disappointed.

It’s just like everything else:  if you want the best results, you have to do the work.

Five Tips For Better Pictures

1. Think about your pictures before you leave the house.  Make sure you are carrying the camera (and other gear) that you are most comfortable using to capture the scenes you’ll see that day.

2. Always use a stable platform to hold the camera – any camera.  If you’re not using a tripod or monopod, then make a tripod with your body:  hold your elbows in tight, and hold the camera up to your nose.  Stop breathing when you shoot so the camera won’t be moving when you press the shutter release.

3. Think about the background of your shots.  In focus?  Out of focus?  With a landmark in the shot, or with a plain background?  Planning makes for better pictures.

4. Take multiple shots.  You’re not burning film, you’re just rearranging electrons.  Make sure you get enough copies so you won’t be disappointed with blinking eyes or photobombing passersby.

5. Set up the best shot, and then ask a stranger to push the button so you can be in the picture.  Family & friends want to see you, too!

The Haleakala Adventure   5 comments

We wanted our first trip to Maui to be special, so we did our research.

I told Velda one option was to watch the sun rise above the Haleakala volcano, knowing that Velda would never approve that idea.  I’m the early riser.  She’s the late riser.  So on vacation, would she want to get up early enough to see the sun rise?

This is one of a series of guidebooks that I highly recommend to anyone planning a trip to Hawaii. Andrew Doughty has a book about each of the islands, and he’s an entertaining read as well as an informative one. You need these books. About $15 on Amazon.

Absolutely.

If you’re going to Maui, I think this is one of the 5 things you MUST do.  Here are the 5:

  1. Go find the World’s Best Banana Bread
  2. Take the Road to Hanna
  3. Eat at Lahaina Grill
  4. Go to Warren & Annabelle’s Magic Show
  5. See the sun rise over the Hale’akala Volcano

Now, of course, there are many, many other things you should do.  Cook fresh fish on the grill, drink your favorite beverage on the beach, see every gorgeous sunset (which is every one) … many things to do.  But this is the story of Haleakala.

Velda was blanket-wrapped with multiple layers, including her UCLA hoodie. She regretted not having gloves, and wearing Capris instead of long pants.

To enjoy the trip, it’s all about the prep.  Know this:  it will be cold at the summit.  Bring layers of clothing.  Long pants, gloves, hat, heavy socks, shoes.  Yes, you’re going to a tropical paradise, but the summit of Haleakala is 10,023′ above that paradise.  You’ll be in the dark, faced into a stiff wind, and it will be bone cold.  Be prepared, or you won’t enjoy this wonder.

Get the car ready the day before, with a full tank of gas.  Have breakfast preset, or eat in the car.  We got up at 2:30 am in order to get to the summit before sunrise, and we did not get there any too early.  We had time to get there, figure out what we should be doing, take a bathroom break, and then claim our spot on the observation rail.

When you arrive, the parking lot is pitch black.  You really just have to know where you’re going.  You can just go to the east … which is the larger, lower observation position.  There’s also a gate that’s opened a few minutes before sunrise, allowing you to go to the upper observation area near the Haleakala Observatory.  It’s higher, but the view of the sunrise is pretty comparable.  (After sunrise, make sure you go there to see the silverswords.)

I brought a monopod to steady my DSLR.  I held it steady against the metal handrail (I was there in time to get in the front row).  Some of the photographers did bring tripods, but I was fine on the monopod; the slowest exposure below is the first one, which was 1/30 of a second.  The pictures below are not color enhanced.

You watch the sun rise above the edge of the Haleakala crater.  You stand above the clouds, and watch the sunrise.    The views are simply astonishing.

The first view across the crater, above the clouds.

# 2. All shots taken with a Nikon D7000.

# 3. Close up view of the brilliant colors around the sun. I used a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Telephoto Lens.

# 4. It just keeps getting better.

# 5.

# 6. With the sun fully risen, the clouds below covering the crater are fully revealed.  Wide shots taken with a Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX.

Digitizing Family Photos   6 comments

This Civil War-era tintype photograph is one of the earliest photos in our collection … and the original tintype is slowly fading to black. Luckily, we could capture the original digitally and enhance the photo.

Piles of photos.  Shelves full of albums.  And what are all of those photos doing?  Fading.

Color prints made before 1990 can fade in just a few decades.  Later prints last longer … but they will always fade.  Put them in a bad environment … on sticky pages, in sunlight, stored in the attic or the garage … and the photos go away much quicker.  Here’s how the National Archives explains the problem.

There are 2 real solutions:  store the photos in a better way, which will slow — not halt — the photographic decay.  That leaves the only real solution:  digitize the photos, color correct them as necessary, and then store those digitized files redundantly.

Epson 4490

You’ll need a flat bed scanner and a digital camera.  I found that Epson scanners suited me the best; I used a 4490 for many of my scans — I actually bought 3 of them!  Since my family was in the Missouri/Illinois area, I kept one scanner at my mother’s house (and then another at my in-law’s house).  When my office unit had scanned its last photo, I switched to a V700.  Both were great.  I used the included software, which was perfectly adequate for me.  I investigated the highly recommended pro software, SilverFast SE, and decided it wasn’t worth the cost.  For me; your mileage may vary.

You’ll need a digital camera for a couple of reasons:  you’ll want to take pictures of your relatives when you visit them, and you’ll have to shoot the pictures that are larger than your flat bed scanner.  I started with a simple Sony point & shoot which wasn’t adequate for archive quality shots, IMHO.  I soon upgraded to a Nikon D90, and then a D7000.  I used a tripod for pictures when I could.  With long distance travel to relative’s homes, I definitely had to travel heavy.

The Epson V700 is a newer model, and produces great scans of negatives, color slides, or printed photographs.

I did very high resolution scanning.  Probably too high, honestly, but I was dealing with family heirloom photos; I’m certain I’ll never see many of the originals again.  So, I had one scan to get it right.  Higher resolution scans capture more detail.  You can’t make a low res scan more detailed.  You can always downgrade a high res scan to a lower resolution, smaller file.

After editing by this enthusiastic amateur, the scan became much brighter and clearer. The photo could have been cleaned up more … but don’t the marks and “noise” in the photo add to its authenticity?

Files were made using a minimum of 600 dpi (dots per inch) … which means I could blow up the picture on the printed page, if that’s what I chose to do.  I generally scanned any 5×7 or smaller at 600 dpi, and 8x10s at 300 dpi (as I wasn’t going to enlarge them).  Laser printers often print at 300 dpi, so if I had a 8×10 scanned at 300 dpi, I could print that as a full 8-1/2 x 11″ page with minimal loss of quality.

Files were saved as .tif files.  I did not use .bmp or the more common .jpg format.  It’s really simple:  you can edit .tif files without a loss of quality.  When you edit the other formats, you lose quality every time you re-save the file.  So, when you can avoid a .jpg, avoid it.  Simple.

When I was scanning in someone’s home, I was often scanning 100 or more photos in a  single session.  With that kind of volume, you need to label the scans immediately, or you’ll never correctly identify all of the kids & adults in the photo.  I did this 2 ways:  1) large group photos got a key identifying every person in the photo.  Sometimes I scanned the back of the photo if it was labeled well.  Other times, I would print the photo and then write directly on the print with the names of the people.  In every case, I named the photo for easy referral, using this sort of format:

Mowry, Henry, 2006
Mowry, Henry, blue shirt
Mowry Family, Henry, 2010
Mowry Wedding, Christopher and Alley, kiss
Xmas 2006, tree

This Lance family snapshot – as originally scanned – is one of my favorite pictures in the collection. It’s SO 1976! On the other hand, this photo is heavily water damaged and discolored. I spent several hours with editing software to restore the picture as best I could to original coloration.

It doesn’t really matter how you label the pictures, but they need to be labeled immediately, or you will misidentify people when you process the photos.  Come up with conventions, and stick to them.  In advance, figure out how you’re going to deal with maiden names, changing last names, group shots … and what kind of file structure the photos will be saved in.  By date?  Family?  Location?  No wrong answers, but get an opinion, and stick to it.

You’ll also find there are several programs made to help you organize your photo collection.  Photoshop Elements is a relatively inexpensive solution; Adobe Lightroom is a more robust, expensive solution.  I prefer Lightroom.  It lets you tag/sort photos in multiple ways.  It automatically saves photos to multiple locations when you upload from the camera … it’s a great tool.

You’ll need photo editing software as well.  There’s a huge array of options here … but always save the original scan as is.  Some software will save versions for you as you edit the photos; I typically added “v2,” “v3,” etc to file names in the early days.  Later, I took to adding “RT” to scans that were retouched.  Again, no wrong answers here, but save your original scans, and save your work as you go, and you’ll not get yourself into trouble.

I principally used 2 editing programs:  Photoshop Elements (the home version) and Adobe Photoshop (just like the professionals use).  Photoshop is amazing software, and you’ll need to devote many hours to learning how to best use it.  Elements is very intuitive … it’s really point & click easy.  Both can work.  How much time do you want to devote to photo editing?  It you just want to crop photos and straighten crooked scans, get Elements.  If you want to do some exacting work, get the full Photoshop.

My father, Robert Mowry, shot by a photographer in his studio in Maryville, MO.

For photographs I shoot, I generally use Nikon’s Capture NX2.  This software handles RAW files (better cameras allow you to use this unprocessed, uncompressed file type that varies by camera), and allows some pretty amazing and quick edits.  Not as robust as Photoshop, but easier and quicker, I’ve found.  NX2 also edits .jpg files, but as discussed earlier, the results are not as good, since photo quality is lost each time you save a .jpg file.

My mother, Letha Shull, shot by that same photographer with that same white table. Who knew these two pictures would be united in one family years later?

Once you have the files, you need redundant backups to make sure that you don’t lose these heirlooms that you’ve worked so hard to scan, edit and store.  Keep files on your computer’s hard drive … and then make a copy on an external hard drive.  Be very good and make a third copy which is kept offsite, either in the cloud or at a relative’s house.  Some people keep a backup hard drive at the office in a desk drawer.  Go old school:  keep it in your safety deposit box.  Use an online service for backups such as Norton (expensive) or Carbonite (which I recommend).

I know one thing about the computer that holds your photo collection: it will die.  I don’t know when, but I do know that all machines will die.  Therefore, plan beginning TODAY for the failure of the primary storage device for your photos.  After all, where can you get another copy of that perfect family photo?

Are Lines Always This Blurry?   1 comment

Every Sci Fi fan’s favorite hand held device, of course, is the tricorder.  Those are almost a reality today, thanks to a $10 million prize offered for the company that develops one.  Here’s some recent news coverage.  So, real tricorders are just around the corner!

Who knew that a tricorder would be proven to be too large and too inflexible just 40 years later?

We’ve had several handheld devices compete to be your favorite.  We’ve had  PDAs, personal audio recorders, watches with news feeds, and many more.  There was a time that an operations manager at Six Flags Magic Mountain had to wear a pair of two-way radios and a beeper (remember those?) to stay in communication with staff.  Thankfully, those days are gone.

I used to know what a camera was.  You know, the kind you put film in?  I did that, a lot.  Those were good days.

Today, a phone is a camera. Oh, and a flashlight, a thermometer, a compass, a level, a phonebook, a clock, a game console, a two-way, a juke box, a radio, a book, a computer, an alarm … and I’m just getting started.

Dedicated cameras have survived in ways that beepers, PDAs and wristwatches have not.  However, it now appears that smartphones and their ever-improving features are having a negative impact on digital camera sales … down nearly a third in England over the last 5 years, for example.  Smartphones have put millions of cameras into consumers’ hands, and in some cases, those phones have replaced cameras.

Since dedicated cameras have better photographic functionality … what should you do?  Carry 2 devices, or “make do” with just your smartphone?

Note: the idea of only carrying a camera is just not possible today!

In the latest twist, according to this article, Nikon may soon introduce a camera that uses 3G to connect to the web and use apps.  Instagram on your camera?  Just wait a couple of weeks, and it appears that we’ll be there.

I guess it only figures.  I mean, an e-reader can use 3G, so why not a camera?  Or will the camera just be WiFi capable, as with the lower models of the Kindle or iPad?  Time will tell.

In theory, this means that Nikon’s extending their CoolPix series with a ‘net capable camera … so that means we’ll have the option of a better point & shoot that runs onboard apps for processing and uploads pix directly.  Just like your smartphone … but with better optics?  It’s hard for me to believe they could deliver better processing, too.

Will that encourage you to carry a web-capable camera in addition to your smartphone?  Or is Nikon barking up the wrong tree?

For today, my vote is with a high quality camera (which is why I carry a DSLR).  I seldom shoot with my smartphone, which, I know, just means that I’m too old to understand.

But I don’t wear a watch anymore.  That’s some progress, right?

This party pic belongs on facebook, right? Immediately, right? Unfortunately, I shot it with my DSLR, uploaded it to my computer, opened processing software to edit and downgrade the file, and THEN I uploaded it. Maybe Nikon does have a good idea!

Posted August 9, 2012 by henrymowry in Photography

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