Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Recommended settings for Olympus Stylus TG-3 Tough

After playing with my newly bought Olympus Stylus TG-3 Tough for a while, I have settled down on my preferred settings for normal day-to-day shooting.  Below are those which I have changed from their default:
  • Picture Mode: Muted
  • Flash: Flash Off 
  • Shooting: Sequential (unless I absolutely don't want multiple same pictures e.g. landscape)
  • Compression: Fine
  • Shadow Adjust: Off
  • AF Mode: Spot (or AF Tracking when subject is moving)
  • Pic Orientation: Off
  • Super-Res Zoom: Off
  • IS Movie Mode: On (unless camera is fixed in place)
  • Sound Settings -> Volume: 0
  • LED Illuminator: On
  • GPS Settings -> GPS: On; Auto Time Adjust: On
  • Interval Settings -> Start Waiting Time: 00:00:02
  • Focus BKT Setting -> Number of pictures: 30; Focus Range: Wide

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Review of Olympus Stylus TG-3 Tough

Is there still a need to buy a compact point-and-shoot (P&S) camera nowadays, esp. when this sector is being attacked from below by mobile phones and above by small mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (MILC)?  In my opinion, the only reason to buy a P&S nowadays is to buy those which can survive harsh conditions like underwater.  I bought the Olympus Stylus TG-3 Tough precisely for this reason.

After playing with it for a short while, below are some initial thoughts on this camera.  I am going to start with the cons first, and yes, I know that many of them are actually "unreasonable".  But I can dream, no? ;)

  • Lousy ergonomics, esp. atrocious zoom lever.
  • Putting on a tripod quick release plate will block the battery/card compartment.
  • No RAW support.
  • No manual and speed priority exposure modes.
  • No viewfinder.
  • No blown out highlights warning i.e. blinkies.
  • Variable maximum aperture: f/2.0 to 4.9.
  • Only up to 99 frames and shortest Interval Time of 1s in Interval Shooting. 
  • Even when Interval Time is 1s, actual interval will be 2-3s which is a mystery to me.  Initially I suspected Start Waiting Time, but this happened even after setting it to 0s.  So either the clock is crazy, or the delay is due to some processing in camera.
  • No hot shoe for mounting external flash and other accessories.
  • Low resolution for high speed video.
  • Cannot do photo story using existing images.
  • No focus tracking during sequential shooting.
  • No bulb mode.
  • No flash exposure compensation.
  • No front lens cap.
  • LCD not articulated.
  • GPS tracking logs not readable by Adobe Lightroom.
  • No manual focus, though can simulate it using AFL (focus lock) in Microscope mode, or Snapshot, Wide 1, and Macro in SCN mode.  
  • Can connect accessories such as LED light guide, filters, fisheye lens, and teleconverter. 
  • Focus stacking.
  • Built-in flash and LED light.
  • Custom mode to store settings.
  • Able to store home and travel destination time zones.
Looking at the lists above, you might wonder why I bought the camera in the first place if there are so many cons versus pros.  Well, as mentioned earlier, a lot of cons are actually unreasonable expectations for this class of camera.  Similar cameras from other brands can be even worse.  There are also a lot of pros that I never mentioned but are the fundamental reasons for buying this camera e.g. waterproof. 

To sum up, if you are looking for a camera that can withstand the elements yet you are not willing to pay too much or carry too heavy or bulky a setup, you should consider the Olympus Stylus TG-3 Tough, esp. if you are into more advanced stuff e.g. focus stacking, time-lapse, use of circular polarizer, etc.  I am looking forward to bringing this camera to Iceland and Norway next month as a backup camera, and if it performs well, I may well use it as the main camera for non-photographic trips henceforth.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Jobu Micro Gimbal/Ballhead Adapter

One thing I've realised about photography is that it is a “无底洞” (bottomless pit).  You buy something, then buy something else to complement that something, and so on.  A case in point: I recently bought the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD for Nikon to shoot birds and started itching for a gimbal head.  However, gimbal heads are expensive and I don't think I shoot often enough to justify that expenditure.  Hence I decided to buy the Jobu Micro Gimbal/Ballhead Adapter which seems to be a good compromise since I already have an existing tripod with Arca Swiss ball head.

The adapter is small enough to be put into the bag and deployed as and when necessary.  But the Tamron lens presents additional challenge as it is a zoom lens.  Normally you need to mount your lens on the gimbal such that it can balance.  However, as the Tamron lens extends from 150mm to 600mm, the center of gravity will shift towards the front and upset the balance.  Since I normally shoot at 600mm, I try to balance the whole setup at that focal length, which led to another problem.

I mounted my ball head's Arca Swiss quick release (QR) plate on the lens collar and then attached it to the gimbal and slid it back to balance the setup.  But at 600mm the QR plate is simply not long enough to provide sufficient space to slide backwards.  So now I needed to go and buy a longer QR plate: Sunwayfoto Universal Quick-Release Plate DPG-120D.  Finally I can balance at 600mm:

Nikon D610 + Tamron 150-600mm
So is this the end of the story?  I chanced upon the Micro-Head Offset Adapter while browsing one fine day.  At this point in time I don't think I will be buying that unless absolutely necessary.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Metabones Nikon G Lens to Sony E-Mount Speed Booster ULTRA

I started with a Sony NEX-6, and have since moved on to a Nikon D610.  But I am still holding on to the former as a secondary or backup camera.  However, a secondary camera that doesn't share lenses with the primary camera is of limited use.  Luckily, the Sony NEX-6 is a mirrorless camera that can accept Nikon lenses via suitable adapters.  The reverse i.e. mounting Sony E-mount lenses on Nikon DSLR is not possible though.

I decided to purchase the Metabones Nikon G Lens to Sony E-Mount Speed Booster ULTRA to attach my Nikon F-mount lenses to the NEX-6.  I like the idea of using my full frame (FF) lenses on a cropped sensor camera without worrying about the crop factor.  The speed boost of 1 f-stop and improvement in image quality simply make this adapter a no-brainer.

Of course, reality is never that rosy.  I can't autofocus with this adapter, which is not a huge loss since NEX-6 has focus peaking and manual focus (MF) assist (need to enable Release w/o Lens to work).  I also will be primarily using this adapter for landscape and macro, which suits MF anyway.

Next, there is no focal length, aperture, and lens identification info transmitted; I only know the ISO and shutter speed.  Hence if the missing info is important, I will need to record it down manually somewhere.

Last but not least, Tamron's vibration compensation (VC) doesn't seem to work, at least for Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD Nikon.  Again, not a big loss and can conserve battery life to boot!

Now let's talk about some positive things.  The increase in light gathered by 1 f-stop is real; too bad the depth of field (DoF) doesn't drop correspondingly as well.  In other words, an f/2.8 lens will become f/2 for exposure purpose but the DoF is still f/2.8.  But if my understanding is correct, this is already an improvement because normally there is a need to multiply the DoF by the crop factor to obtain the effective DoF i.e. if I am not using a Speed Booster type adapter, the f/2.8 lens will actually provide f/4.2 DoF even though the light is still gathered at f/2.8.

I looked into hyperfocal distance calculation with this adapter as well.  I believe one should use the reduced focal length (by 0.71x) and a cropped sensor's circle of confusion (0.02mm) to compute.  But since that will consistently yield results that are shorter than the FF focal length and FF sensor's circle of confusion (0.03mm), I can just use the FF calculations if that is more convenient e.g. the DoF scale on my AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D.

Another thing I like about the adapter is the removable Arca-Swiss foot.  Although it looks a bit too slim for comfort, it does secure to my tripod head.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Using Auto ISO

We have been taught that Auto ISO is evil.  But is it?  If you know how to use it correctly, it can be used for the force of good! ;)

The Nikon D610 (and of course, many other cameras) has an Auto ISO feature which allows the user to set the maximum ISO it can go to and the minimum shutter speed to prevent camera shake.  I set the maximum ISO to be 6400 as the quality at that ISO for Nikon D610 is still acceptable to me.  As for minimum shutter speed, I leave it at the middle of Auto, which will ensure the shutter speed does not fall below 1/focal length of the lens I am using.  I can vary it by up to 2 stops if for instance I am using Vibration Reduction lenses, or I can just manually select a shutter speed as slow as 1s.

The Auto ISO feature really shines when you are shooting wildlife esp. birds.  A typical scenario will be using shutter priority to set your shutter speed to say, 1/2000s, and the camera will first ensure the lens is wide open before boosting the ISO.  Exposure compensation will work as normal as well, so for example if you are shooting a bird in flight against a bright sky, you may +1 or 2 EV and the ISO will also increase accordingly (assuming aperture already wide open).

But what if you don't want to shoot at wide open aperture?  Take my Tamron 150-600mm as an example.  It is sharper at f/8 than f/6.3.  So if there is sufficient light, I would very much prefer to shoot at the former rather than the latter.  But you can't do that in shutter priority as the aperture is not controlled by you.  Although you can do it in aperture priority, you have to be careful of your shutter speed, and to make things worse, any exposure compensation will affect the shutter speed.  So this is not ideal for birding.

However, this is where shooting at manual mode comes to the rescue.  Simply set your desired shutter speed e.g. 1.2000s and aperture e.g. f/8 and enable Auto ISO.  When performing exposure compensation, the ISO will automatically increase or decrease accordingly.  Voila! :)

The last thing to note is to always manually set your ISO to the lowest you desire e.g. 100 before enabling Auto ISO.  This does not affect manual mode, but if you are on aperture or shutter priority, that ISO you set will automatically become the floor of your Auto ISO.  In other words, if you set it to be 3200, then you will always shoot at ISO 3200 or higher no matter the lighting condition unless you are in manual mode.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader

I bought the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader recently so that I can copy images from my SD cards into my iPad.  The main reason for doing that is to act as a backup for my images since I may not want to bring along my laptop especially for short trips.  A secondary reason is to be able to view and edit images, although this is not as critical. 

There are actually other devices out there that can backup images out field e.g. NEXTO DI ND2901 but they do not come cheap.  I also wish to make use of existing devices I have as far as possible.  Since I already have an iPad and chances of me bringing it along for trips is high especially when I don't want to bring along a laptop, it makes sense to leverage on the iPad rather than buy something new.

As for getting images into the iPad, there are other ways besides using the card reader such as Wi-Fi.  The problem is I shoot RAW, and transferring RAW files over the air is not only agonizingly slow, it gobbles up battery power for lunch too.  I would imagine wireless transfer would be useful for scenarios where you want to shoot and have the pictures (preferably JPEG for faster transfer) immediately available on the iPad for you or your client to review.  But since my primary objective is just to backup the SD cards, I don't really need the wireless option.

The iPad can import RAW files using the iOS 8 Photos app, but it is slow in displaying the images and this seems to be a bug introduced in iOS 8.  Hopefully it will be resolved in the latest iOS 8.1.  I just imported 315 NEF files (20.2GB) from a SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB SDHC UHS-1 to an iPad Air running iOS 8.0.2 and it took around 19 mins and consumed 4% of my iPad's battery. 

What about getting the images off the iPad and into the computer?  If the iPad is solely used for backup and nothing else, and the original SD cards are untouched, then you can simply ignore the images on the iPad and import directly from the SD cards.  Once the import is successful, you can delete the backed up images from the iPad to free up space using utilities like Image Capture on your Mac. 

For users of Adobe Lightroom mobile, you may be aware of the auto import feature that will automatically add new images in your camera roll into Lightroom.  Unfortunately it will not do so for RAW files so I cannot use that to import the files into Lightroom.

However, the iPad can do more things than simply act as a backup device; you would probably want to view and edit those images you shot with your camera on your iPad.  The Photos app in iOS 8 is able to display and "edit" RAW files.  I use it to go through the images on my iPad and delete unwanted ones.  Thereafter I use Lightroom to copy directly from the iPad rather than the original SD cards.  It is probably slower this way but at least I can avoid importing unwanted photos.  It's a pity labelling certain images as favourites in Photos will not port over to Lightroom.  Perhaps if I import from Photos to iPhoto on my Mac then export from iPhoto to Lightroom, it may work.  But it's too much a hassle, honestly speaking. 

Last but not least, the card reader only works on iPads and not iPhones.  If intended purely as a backup device, the iPhone, being smaller, is obviously more suitable than iPad, assuming same storage capacity.  And with the new iPhone 6 Plus, the screen has gotten bigger to facilitate viewing and editing, if necessary.  I will almost always walk around with my iPhone but not iPad.  iPad Mini is an option, but again, it is not a device I will always walk around with.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

How to clean your camera sensor

Once you realise your camera has sensor dust, what do you do about it?  Well, you should clean it to save yourself a lot of grief in post processing later.  Most cameras nowadays have a built-in sensor cleaning feature which basically shakes the sensor during power on and off in an attempt to remove the dust.  But if your camera still have sensor dust despite this feature, then you need to adopt more drastic measures.

The easiest option is simply remove your lens (and switch your camera if DSLR to sensor cleaning mode to raise the mirror and open the shutter) to expose the sensor and use a rocket blower to blow air onto the sensor, hopefully knocking off some of the dust particles.  This is not the most effective option but it is doable by anyone.

The second option requires you to use a sensor swab to wipe your sensor.  Not all users are comfortable doing this by themselves.  In that case, just send your camera to your trusted camera store or service centre and have the technicians there do it for you.  Previously I sent in my Sony NEX-6 to the Sony Service Centre for sensor cleaning.  The turnaround time was around a week but it was free of charge as my camera was under warranty then.  It's a pity that Nikon does not offer free sensor cleaning for its camera under warranty.  So I try to take advantage of free sensor cleaning opportunities during Nikon events.  For example, I recently attended a Nikon event and you can see the pictures below showing my Nikon D610 sensor before and after cleaning:

Before sensor cleaning
Before sensor cleaning: there were many dust particles, particularly along the left edge.
After sensor cleaning
After sensor cleaning: only 1 or 2 dust particles left.

Friday, 3 October 2014

How to use both self-timer and MUP on Nikon D610

The beginning photographer learns quickly that the self-timer is very handy to avoid touching the camera when the remote shutter release is not available.  The remote shutter release is still useful for situations where timing is critical e.g. fireworks but one can never forget to bring along the built-in self-timer. ;)

However, things become a little bit more complicated when dealing with DSLR.  DSLR has a mirror which also causes vibration and hence most DSLRs have a mode called MUP for mirror lock-up to reduce camera shake.  For obvious reason mirrorless camera does not have the same issue.

Can the photographer combine both self-timer and MUP?  It is not possible on my Nikon D610 as the self-timer and MUP are separate items on the mode dial.  I heard that it's possible on Canon though.

However, there's a workaround -- by using the Exposure Delay menu option (d10).  This introduces a delay of up to 3s after the mirror goes up.  So I can turn the mode dial to self-timer mode and set the timer to be, say, 2s.  Once I press the shutter release, the timer will countdown 2s and the mirror will flip up.  After 3s then the shutter will open and the picture taken.  The 3s exposure delay will hopefully negate any vibration caused by the mirror flipping up.

Last but not least, according to this workaround also works on the Nikon D750.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

How to check for sensor dust

Assuming your camera allows some sort of manual control:
  1. Use a narrow aperture e.g. f/22
  2. Shoot a light even background e.g. blue sky or white sheet of paper
  3. May need to, say, +1 EV if shooting white sheet of paper to ensure proper exposure 
  4. Manually set the camera out of focus
  5. Slightly shake the camera while exposure in progress, usually a few seconds
  6. Examine using camera LCD, magnifying the image to see the dust
Alternatively you can also load the image into software like Adobe Lightroom and examine from there.  Lightroom 5 has a feature called Visualize Spots which is very handy to identify sensor dust, and subsequently clone them out.  

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

First camera for the serious digital photography learner

What should be the first camera for someone seriously learning about digital photography?  My first serious camera was the Sony NEX-6, which I bought in early 2013.  Looking back with the experience and knowledge I have gained thus far, if I could go back in time, I might not buy it again.  This is not to say that the camera is bad; but just that I now have a better clarity on the criteria a serious digital photography learner should look for in his first camera:
  • Full manual control i.e. focus, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and white balance
  • Reasonable focal length range from wide angle to telephoto e.g. 24-200mm (35mm-equivalent)
  • Tripod mountable i.e. 1/4" screw thread at bottom of camera
Full manual control esp. of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed will allow the learner to understand and experiment with the exposure triangle.  If push comes to shove I will keep those three and ditch manual white balance and focus.  White balance can be easily changed in post if the learner shoots in RAW anyway.  As for manual focus, although it is useful in shooting landscape, macro, etc., one can probably still get by with just autofocus.

A reasonable focal length range from wide angle to telephoto will allow the learner to try out different focal lengths and eventually he will discover which focal lengths he likes best or shoots at most often.  That will sort of inform him what his next lens or camera purchase will be.

The last mandatory requirement is that the camera must be tripod mountable to allow for long exposure, massive depth of field, etc.  If the camera cannot be held steady, then the learner will be handicapped in exploring interesting areas such as night photography.  

The above three are non-negotiable.  The below five are good to have, though:
  • RAW format supported by third party software like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom
  • Self timer or remote shutter release
  • Viewfinder
  • Built-in flash
  • Bulb mode
In addition to the white balance flexibility when shooting RAW, RAW gives the learner the most data to work with if he ever wants to dabble in post processing.  If the learner does not shoot RAW, although he definitely still can post process, he will have literally less raw materials to play with.

A self timer or remote shutter release, when coupled with a tripod, will allow the learner to reduce camera shake and ensure the picture taken is as sharp as possible.  It also offers the learner the opportunity to take selfies, group shots, etc.

A viewfinder is definitely useful esp. when it is bright and one cannot see the LCD clearly.  It also allows the learner to hold the camera in a more steady position compared to looking at the LCD.

A built-in flash will allow the learner to dabble in a little bit of flash photography.  Granted, the output is not going to be fantastic, and if the learner really wants to go into flash photography, he will eventually purchase off camera flash.  But a built-in flash does not incur additional cost and is infinitely more portable.

Last but not least, the bulb mode allows the shutter to remain open as long as the shutter button is pressed down.  This usually works best with remote shutter release.  Bulb mode allows the learner to shoot longer than the maximum shutter speed of his camera, and also at adhoc shutter speeds e.g. when shooting fireworks.

As an aside, one may wonder why interchangeable lens system is not included as mandatory or even good to have.  Because I think it creates unnecessary complications and risks for the beginning learner.  I have seen many beginners buy an interchangeable lens camera but never ever remove the kit lens.  Moreover, changing system can be expensive, hence it is more prudent not to be vested in any system unless one already has some knowledge in this area.  I speak from experience as I switched from Sony E-mount to Nikon FX...

Friday, 12 September 2014

Nikon D750

As you are undoubtedly aware by now, the new Nikon D750 has been announced.  I was watching some of its marketing videos and the "unchained" tagline caught my attention.  Indeed the new Nikon D750 will free us from the chains of:
  • cables thanks to built-in Wi-Fi
  • chargers thanks to longer battery life
  • inflexible angles thanks to vari-angle LCD
I am not a huge fan of Wi-Fi for camera yet, but I can appreciate the longer battery life and vari-angle LCD.  Other features I like include lighter weight, more AF points, faster FPS, etc. 

But the crucial question is: will I buy it?  Now, definitely not, because I still have a working Nikon D610 and don't need a second Nikon body yet.  Even if I ever decide to go for a second Nikon body, I might opt for a cropped sensor body instead.  It is also wise to wait and see a bit in view of Nikon's recent bad history of problems with new cameras like the D600 and D810.  Patience is a virtue! :)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Nikon D610 vs Canon 6D

A few months ago I was thinking of upgrading my camera to a full frame (FF).  Although I was (and still am) using the Sony NEX-6, I wasn't too impressed with Sony's FF lineup; hence I was looking at going into either Canon or Nikon.  Leica was out of my budget by the way.

I compared the two entry-level FF cameras available from both manufacturers at that point in time, namely Canon 6D and Nikon D610.  Price-wise, around the same.  But I ultimately chose the Nikon because it has more features that I wanted, namely:
  • 100% viewfinder coverage
  • 39 AF points with 9 being cross-type sensor
  • 2 SD card slots
  • Built-in flash
In addition, both and rated Nikon D610 higher than Canon 6D.  Last but not least, the prices of Nikon-mount lenses I was eyeing appeared to be lower than those of Canon.  

Canon 6D does have some advantages over Nikon D610; for instance, built-in Wi-Fi and GPS.  I don't really care much for built-in Wi-Fi, but GPS would be useful for me as I like to geotag my photos.  

Moreover, the 39 AF points of Nikon D610 sounds awesome compared to Canon 6D's 11, but they are all clustered in the centre. reducing their usefulness.  

I also heard from more experienced photographers that Canon is better in video than Nikon.  Since I am not into video (yet), that is irrelevant to me.  I did recommend a friend the Canon 6D because of this though, as he is more into video than me.  

To conclude, if you are an existing Canon or Nikon cropped sensor camera user and thinking of upgrading to FF, I would recommend sticking to your existing system unless you really know what you are doing.  However, if you are coming fresh into the FF world and thinking of choosing either a Canon or Nikon entry-level FF, then Nikon D610 would be the safer bet.