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.