|Volume 10, Number 13||20 June 2008|
Welcome to the 230th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We pass along some recent experience shooting graduations and ball games before a look at what's new in the Nikon D60. Then we discuss the pros and cons of body-based and lens-based image stabilization. Have fun!
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Advice is not in short supply this season. Valedictorians, justices of the peace, coaches all contribute to the collection. But, as if by design, none of them address how to photograph the occasion.
We've just shot two graduations (quite different ones) with a couple of YMCA baseball games tossed in for extra credit. No weddings this year, though. Some of our shots worked, some didn't, and we've survived to reflect on the difference so you won't have to.
Some of what follows illustrates the strengths of different kinds of cameras, but most of it applies to setting any camera to capture the moment in a variety of settings. So dig in and, as they say at my alma mater (if in fewer words), let there be light!
If you need an excuse to buy a dSLR, use this special occasion. It can make up for bad seats and poor lighting.
But the kit lens, which tends to favor the wide angle end, often just doesn't reach far enough for even indoor events. Look for a lens that gets to 200mm. Those 18-200mm vacation lenses are great for this, working just as well at close quarters after the show when you want some candids. A 70-300mm lens works well if you're in a football stadium, but you'll want something a little wider for group shots later.
Among digicams, a long zoom can be a great asset, too. Fully racked out, they can approach 400mm or more and be very hard to steady, so bring along a walking stick that knows how to turn into a monopod. Some even have small feet that turn them into tripods. Even if you're sitting in tight quarters, one of these stabilizers can make it a lot easier to compose your shots.
If you've got a digicam, you have one big advantage over a dSLR. You can take movies. The best movie to take, of course, is the moment your graduate's name is called and they step up to shake hands and receive their fake diploma.
If your grad is the valedictorian, get a large card and record the speech as a voice memo. We still prefer digital audio recorders like the Olympus DS-30 for this. Or even a camcorder.
And again, if you've got the choice between an ultracompact with a 3x zoom and an 18x long zoom, go for the long zoom.
There's no doubt about it. People who've tried digicams are moving up to dSLRs. They like the responsive shutter, period. Digicams still outnumber dSLRs, because you can't beat the convenience of a small camera. But convenience isn't the whole story. The biggest surprise was to see so few "convenient" camphones at these events. Sometimes quality does matter.
Whatever you're using, though, it's wise to spend a few minutes preparing your gear for this once-in-a-lifetime, unrepeatable event.
If your camera uses AA batteries, don't pop alkaline batteries into it. Get a set of Eneloops or any rechargeable NiMH AA. You'd think this would be old news, but I met one highly educated person who didn't know that was why their always camera shut down after taking just one picture.
Charge your battery. You should always start out with a full charge, but these events are lengthy and you'll find yourself zooming a lot to compose your shots (not to mention slipping into Playback mode to show them off right away). You may also find yourself shooting a lot of flash shots. But only if you charge your battery first.
Clean the lens. You can still get sharp shots with dust on your lens (or the filter protecting it) because the front element is not the focus plane, but you'll get better color and tone if there are no obstructions.
Format the card. The complement of a full battery is an empty card. You should have copied all your pictures off it long ago, but if you didn't, do it before you format it. Yes, you can just erase all your pictures, but the occasional format in the camera you're using never hurts. If you're using several small cards, format all of them so they're ready when you need them.
Set up your camera with the shooting mode you prefer, the ISO you expect to use, the image size and the compression quality you want. While you might shoot the occasional Raw image, event shooting cries out for JPEGs. If you're fond of fiddling with the white balance, set it for your venue or set it to Auto so you won't be surprised you left it on tungsten or some custom setting. And turn off the flash (you'll be too far away for it to help).
You want to be able to pull out the camera, power it on and start shooting without thinking about anything. Even if the venue isn't quite what you expected, at least you'll know how the camera is set. You might just have to adjust ISO, for example, for a dimmer stage.
That's really all you have to do before you leave the house -- no matter what kind of camera you're using. Although if you can possibly arrange it, try to arrive as the aunt, uncle or grandparent rather than the besieged parent. It's a lot less pressure.
Our first graduation was in a theater. The 50 or so graduates were arrayed on the stage and families played the audience. One enterprising grad brought his digicam with him and shot from a unique angle among the graduating class.
But you'll probably be in the audience.
A digicam is going to get confused in a dark theater. The first problem is the black background. It will try to exposure that as gray, using a very slow shutter speed (so nothing is sharp) and wide open aperture (which isn't very wide at telephoto). You can compensate for this a bit by telling the camera to underexpose, setting EV to -1 or more, because it really is a dark scene.
But if your subject (and not the black background) fills the frame (which it might with a long zoom), you may find the lighting perfectly adequate for non-flash photography. Flash won't do you any good anyway if you're more than 10 feet away. It will just burn up your battery, firing the flash at maximum each time, only to fall short of your subject on the stage.
We were sitting far enough back that we needed our dSLR with its vacation lens. Our first subject was the large slide show projected on the back wall of the stage, showing highlights of the academic year in the department. Shooting those big bright images in Program mode was a snap. But if they'd been more dramatic shots with dark backgrounds, we would have slipped into Manual mode for more consistent results from shot to shot.
Which is just what we had to do for the stage. We took a test shot in Program mode just to see what the histogram would look like at the camera-set exposures. Then we switched to Manual mode and set our aperture and shutter speed based on what we saw.
Setting shutter speed at events is tricky. While an image stabilized lens can deliver a sharp image at 1/10 of a second (and sometimes even slower), that only prevents blur from camera movement. At 1/10 second, expect subject movement to blur the image. That isn't a bad thing if the subject's head is still and just their hands are moving, but it can ruin the shot if your subject is moving across the stage to get their diploma. You really want to set the shutter speed up around 1/125 second to minimize if not prevent this, although a sedate crowd clapping politely can be captured with just a bit of motion blur at 1/40 second. And at the slower shutter speed you can always pan, moving the camera along with the subject.
At a slow shutter speed in a dark theater, you'll need a wide open aperture. But even then, you may not have enough light to get a good exposure. That's when you crank up the ISO. On a dSLR you can safely go to ISO 800. On a digicam, ISO 400. We wanted to shoot around f8.0, however, to get everyone in focus, so we cranked our ISO up to 1600. Digicams and some dSLRs can automatically adjust ISO for you but use these settings as the upper limits.
We took test shots as the grads walked in and took their seats, refining our exposure setting by consulting the histogram and the exposure of their faces. Since we were in a theater, we didn't have to worry about changing our settings. The lighting situation was constant.
Afterwards there was a reception in the lobby. The crush of people make it hard to move around and getting a clear shot was nearly impossible. But that's when the compact digicam we brought along took the spotlight. We were able to leave it set at wide angle, hold it overhead and shoot down into the crowd or just our little conclave. It was great for candids. A few movies wouldn't have hurt either, but we weren't keen on changing shooting modes with a glass of champagne in one hand.
The theater graduation seemed intimate compared to the stadium graduation we shot next. Scheduled for a 5:30 start with 450 names to call, we prepared for a long day.
And a long shot. Why do they park the grads in the end zone and pretend people in the stands are attending the same event? Move the grads to the 50 yard line, split them in half, facing each other, and face the lectern to the home seating. Latecomers can be seated in the visitors section.
At that distance, getting a good shot isn't easy, so don't be disappointed. That 17-85mm zoom just isn't going to reach close enough to capture an expression. A 200mm can get as close as the stage at 35 yards, but it's still not an intimate shot.
We usually favor Aperture Priority mode, but at that distance everything was going to be in focus. The big issue was the failing light. Rather than adjusting a manual exposure throughout the late afternoon, we set the camera on Program. It was bright enough when we started that we didn't have to worry about shutter speed.
We zoomed our lens to 200mm and set the Shutter Release mode to High Speed Continuous to catch a burst of images as our grad crossed the stage. That way we were actually able to capture the handoff of the empty diploma case and that big smile on our grad's face as she left the stage.
If we'd been shooting that with a digicam we'd have probably needed digital zoom to see what was going on in the first place. But if not, we could have used the longest optical telephoto focal length (typically around 105mm) and cropped for a nice 4x6 or 5x7 without enlarging the crop. It only takes three megapixels of data to do that. So if you have a camera with more resolution than a 3-Mp digicam, you can crop to the composition you can't zoom to.
That goes for our dSLR shots, too, though. We could easily crop that shot from our 12-Mp original to make a very nice 8x10 that just shows her accepting her diploma as if we were only a few yards away.
With all the focus on the main event, don't neglect some of the colorful action around you. Shoot a few congratulation balloons, get the family across the aisle firing off their air horns, don't miss the little kids imagining their graduation from preschool.
We shot with White Balance set to Auto as the sun sank behind us, turning everything amber by the time the grads joined their families on the field. The shift in white balance from the cooler daylight of the entrance march to the warmer amber of the poses with family was actually a nice touch.
The candids afterwards are a crap shoot but as a secondary shooter in the group, we didn't have to worry about staging them. We could shoot them from the side without waiting for anyone to look at us, or behind the main shooter, showing the whole ensemble, or just catch the admiring gazes of the younger cousins.
We shot these in Program mode but Continuous Shutter, firing off three to six shots of each group to increase our odds of getting something worth saving. There's really no point in being frugal with your card space. You aren't going to get another chance to make these shots.
We don't get the chance to shoot much sports action, but as event photography goes, it doesn't get much more fun than T-ball. You probably wouldn't call T-ball with five year olds action photography, but they put their whole soul into it.
Fortunately that elevates their game because otherwise we're not sure you could see them above the blades of infield grass. If you're going to capture baseball action this short, you have to get close to the ground yourself, so crouch or get on one knee -- whatever it takes to see the game at their level.
The real action is in their faces. The concentration, the grimace, the wonder, the relief. To capture it, we slipped into Aperture Priority so we could set a shallow depth of field with a large aperture. That isolates your subject dramatically.
And it guarantees a fast shutter speed, too. You don't always want a fast shutter speed (the swing of a bat is more dramatic at slower shutter speeds) but a five year old can get some serious blur going even at 1/125 second. If your camera has a command dial, Program mode lets you easily dial one way toward that wide aperture or the other to a slower shutter speed.
We happened to catch the last game of the season, so the final at-bat which always clears the bases in YMCA ball, ended up with the whole team at home plate, slapping low fives. And moments later after a snack, trophies were handed out to every player. What to hold: snack or trophy? Tough call. But indecision makes a great snapshot.
The nine year olds in coach pitch towered over the dirt infield. We left the camera in Aperture mode, period, to blur everything but our main subject. Most of our shots were at 200mm where wide open is f5.6. That left a shutter speed shorter than 1/500 second. But we really wanted to get every eyelash of concentration and finger bent on the grip.
This division played on a fancier field with actual shaded stands. We were able to shoot not just from the third base and first base sides of the field but also up on the third row of seats. Varying your point of view lets you see things you might not otherwise notice.
One point of view that can be a problem, though, is behind the backstop. Autofocus systems will tend to focus on the wire screen, missing the action (particularly if you're shooting in Aperture Priority mode). The solution on a dSLR is to manually focus. Many dSLR lenses set on autofocus will still let you tweak focus manually with a twist of the focus ring. On a digicam, point it away from the backstop for a second, half press the Shutter button and return to the backstop to finish the shot.
In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to appreciate the versatility your camera provides in capturing the action. A little preparation can make your shooting experience trouble-free so you can focus on the kind of shot you want to make. What to focus on, how deeply to focus, whether to blur motion, or hedge your bet on a faraway moment you don't want to miss. Just remember to wipe the tears away from your eyes every now and then.
By DAVE ETCHELLS and SHAWN BARNETT(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/ND60/ND60A.HTM on the Web site.)
The Nikon D60 story begins in Fall 2006 with the introduction of the 6-megapixel D40, a compact dSLR with an easy-to-use interface and image quality that belied its entry-level pricing. Nikon followed the D40 with the 10-Mp D40x in Spring 2007. Together, the two models bracketed the competition, with the D40 priced low and the D40x offering higher resolution for only a modest increment in price.
Now Nikon has announced the D60 with most of the same core attributes and capabilities of the D40x, but a host of improvements as well, some of them fairly significant. Along with the D60, Nikon also announced a new version of the 18-55mm kit lens, adding Nikon's Vibration Reduction image stabilization technology to an already competent kit optic.
Like the D40x, the D60 is easy to use, presenting a very friendly face to the neophyte photographer, while still allowing experienced users to do what they want with the camera. The D60 has the same body design and control layout as its predecessors, with a grip that's remarkably comfortable for a wide range of hand sizes. Best of all, image quality is, if anything, improved.
As with the D40x before it, the only external difference in the D60 body is the D60 badge on the front panel. Likewise, it inherits the D40x's exposure and autofocus systems, 1/200 second flash sync speed, 3-point AF system and 3.0 frames per second continuous shooting speed.
The D60's basic imaging characteristics are also very similar to those of the D40x. It has the same color rendering as the D40x, which is a bit more saturated than we personally prefer, but with an easy-to-access saturation control to dial down the color to suit your tastes. Detail is excellent and high-ISO performance appears to be on par with the D40x too. It's very good, with ISO 1600 images usable for prints as large as 8.5x11 inches.
The one significant difference we found in our testing of the D60 was its dynamic range wasn't quite as great as that of the D40x, which had the best dynamic range in its camera-generated JPEGs of any camera we'd tested. The D60's dynamic range is still really excellent though, among the very best, surpassed only by the Canon EOS-5D and the amazing Fuji S3 Pro.
Among the new features the D60 brings to the party are:
Continuous-Mode Burst Length. While the D40 could go almost forever when shooting JPEG images, the D40x was limited to a burst of 7 shots before it would have to pause to wait for the memory card to catch up. With a sufficiently fast memory card, Nikon says the D60 is capable of up to 100 JPEG shots without pausing or up to 6 Raw ones. In our own testing with a Kingston 133x SD card, we confirmed the 6-shot Raw buffer capacity, but only tested the JPEG capacity as far as 20 frames in series. Few users will need a 100-shot capacity, but we've often found need for more than 7 shots in a series, so the increased buffer capacity of the D60 is welcome.
Dust Reduction. One significant addition to the D60 is the dust-reduction system first introduced on the D300 dSLR in Summer 2007. Many cameras now sport dust-reduction systems of various kinds. Most involve some means of shaking the low-pass filter that covers the sensor at a high frequency. The theory is that this will cause lightly-adhered dust to simply fall away, to be captured on adhesive surfaces within the mirror box assembly, placed there for that purpose.
Nikon's approach to dust reduction also involves shaking the low-pass filter, but differs from other systems in that the shaking occurs in a front-to-back direction, rather than side-to-side. The Nikon system also uses four separate resonant frequencies, to obtain maximum effect across the entire frame area. Nikon also said the airflow within the mirror chamber has been modified to circulate air past a capture receptacle whenever the mirror is actuated.
Active D-Lighting. D-Lighting is Nikon's name for their automatic contrast-adjustment technology. It evaluates images and intelligently cuts brightness in highlight areas and boosts brightness in shadow areas to preserve subject detail and deliver better-looking photos. D-Lighting has been a Retouch menu option on Nikon cameras for some time now, being applied in Playback mode to previously captured images. In the high-end D300 dSLR though, Nikon introduced Active D-Lighting, which applies the D-Lighting processing as the images are being captured. The D60 for the first time adds this technology to a consumer model.
D-Lighting is for the most part subtle in its effects, but it does work and seems to work well. It requires a bit of time for the camera to process each shot, so you'd not use it for sports or fast-paced action. Also, there may be times when you want to blow out highlights or plug shadows, for specific artistic or compositional effects. On the whole though, we think the D60's Dynamic D-Lighting is a feature a lot of casual shooters will appreciate, helping out in a lot of difficult lighting situations.
The D60 makes it easy to apply Dynamic D-Lighting on a shot. Simply press the button just behind and to the left of the shutter button and turn the command dial. The status of the Dynamic D-Lighting option is shown at all times on the rear-panel LCD or in the viewfinder while you're changing it.
Stop-motion movie. The D60 also adds a fun feature we've enjoyed on digicams before, but it took Nikon to bring it to dSLRs. First appearing on the high-end D300, stop-motion movies now appear in the D60, too. The feature is surprisingly flexible. You can take any number of individual exposures and combine them into a movie, with a choice of three final frame sizes (640x480, 320x240, 160x120) and four frame rates (15 fps, 10 fps, 6 fps, 3 fps).
Eye sensor to turn off LCD display. One new feature we immediately appreciated on the D60 was its inclusion of an eye sensor to turn off the LCD display when you bring the viewfinder up to your eye. You could turn off the D40x's display by pressing a button, but the automatic operation of the display on the D60 is a welcome addition.
Raw Processing in-camera. Raw files capture all the information originally seen by the sensor and save it without modification for later processing on a computer. In the D40x, you could shoot Raw only or Raw plus a basic-quality JPEG. The D60 retains those options, but also lets you process Raw files into JPEGs in-camera, via an option on the Retouch menu.
Actually, D60 Raw processing goes quite a bit further than simple JPEG conversion. You can select the Image Quality (Fine, Normal or Basic), Image Size (Large, Medium or Small), White Balance (Auto, Incandescent, seven kinds of Fluorescent, Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade), Exposure Compensation (+/- 3 EV) and any of the Optimize Image adjustments (Softer, Vivid, More Vivid, Portrait, Black & White and Custom, which lets you change Sharpening, Contrast, Hue, Color Mode (sRGB or Adobe RGB) and Saturation. Phew. In a nutshell, you can take a Raw file and apply pretty much any combination of camera settings to it, rendering the result as a JPEG. Pretty cool!
Quick Retouch, Expanded filter effects. In-camera retouching has been expanded in several other areas as well. The Quick Retouch function combines D-Lighting, Saturation and Contrast adjustments into one control, with options of Low, Normal and High. Think of it as a "universal enhancifier," able to take underexposed, blah-looking images and punch them up quite nicely, without (in most cases, at least) making them look overdone or over-processed.
The Filter Effects menu also offers a number of new effects, including Red, Green and Blue intensifiers and a Cross-Star filter. The intensifiers make any corresponding color in the image more intense, without affecting other colors. The Cross-Star filter mimics the diffractive "stars" that appear around small highlights with some lenses or that can be created by the addition of a front-element filter on any lens. The D60 lets you choose the intensity of the star effect and the number and length of the rays and apply the effect to any already-captured image on the card. Like all the retouch menu options, the Cross-Star filter makes a new copy of the image with the effect applied, rather than modifying the original. It's an interesting effect, but to our eyes it always looked artificial, not the result of an optical process as would be the case with a front-element star filter.
LCD shooting display rotates when camera does. This is a minor tweak, but a welcome one nonetheless. When you rotate the D60 from a horizontal to vertical orientation, the rear-panel data display rotates along with it.
One big bonus with the D60 relative to its predecessors is its kit lens. The Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6-GB VF AF-S DX has the same focal length and aperture range as the previous model, but adds Vibration Reduction (Nikon's name for image stabilization) for sharper photos under dim lighting conditions.
Vibration Reduction is a very popular lens/camera feature and with good reason. When you're shooting at slow shutter speeds, camera shake can easily blur an otherwise priceless photo. VR isn't a panacea, but it can easily give you another stop or two of slower shutter speeds without being subject to blur. We're still refining our image stabilization test protocols and haven't tested the D60's kit lens yet. Just playing with it informally though, its VR does seem to provide a significant reduction in blur at slow shutter speeds.
Possibly even more significant though, is that the new kit lens almost entirely banishes the problems with lens flare we found in the previous version. With the previous 18-55mm f3.5-5.6-GB ED II, lens flare was very noticeable around high-contrast objects, particularly in the corners of the frame. We said we felt that flare was acceptable (or at least not a great surprise) in a lens at such a low price point, but we did find it very distracting in many of our shots. Happily, the new lens makes dramatic strides in this area. There's still some minor flare visible if you confront it with really strong backlighting, but it's dramatically better than what we saw in the earlier model.
As with the D40x, it's the D60's excellent image quality that makes recommending this dSLR so easy. Most impressive about the D40x was that Nikon managed to improve on the D40's already exceptional high-ISO performance. We were a little disappointed to see that the D60's images show a bit more noise at ISO 1600 than did the D40x, but then realized that Nikon changed the default noise-reduction setting on the D60. The D40x had its high-ISO noise reduction option set to On by default, but the D60's setting defaults to Off. Nikon also seems to have tweaked their noise reduction algorithms a little, to leave in a bit more noise, but also a bit more subject detail at high ISOs. So even with the high-ISO noise reduction option enabled, the D60's images are a bit noisier than those from the D40x, but it does a bit better job at preserving subtle subject detail.
Regardless of the noise setting, overall noise levels are quite low. Owners will be able to make great-looking 8x10 prints from ISO 1600 shots captured with their D60s. As we mentioned above though, a huge plus for the D60 is the VR kit lens. While you still have to worry about blur from subject motion, the VR lens will make it practical to shoot at ISO 800 or even 400 in situations where you'd otherwise really need the shutter speeds afforded by ISO 1600. Bottom line, the D60 is an excellent camera in situations with limited lighting.
In common with the D40x, the D60's default color settings produce very bright, saturated images. How you feel about this will depend on your personal tastes. Most consumers like really bright, saturated color. If that describes you, you'll be entirely happy with the images the D60 produces. Personally, both of us prefer something a bit less saturated. Fortunately, the D60 offers some accommodation in this area. Optimize Image is the first option on the Shooting menu. Select it, scroll down to the Custom option and select that. Drop down to Saturation and select "Moderate." Be sure to scroll back up and click the OK button on the "Done" option, to register the change. The result will be more natural-looking photos, with colors closer to real life. We like the results quite a bit, they coincide with our personal preferences pretty well. It'd be nice though, to see more steps here, to let users tune the look of the D60's images a bit more finely.
One area where the D60 didn't quite measure up to the performance of the D40x was in its dynamic range (the range of light to dark values that it can distinguish). When we ran our Imatest "deep analysis," we found its dynamic range consistently measured about a half-stop less than that of the D40x. But of all the cameras we've tested to date, the only ones that beat it are the Rebel XSi in its default mode (which has Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer turned on), the D40x, the Fuji S3 Pro and the Canon EOS-5D. The Canon Rebel XSi comes in about a quarter-stop behind the D60 when the ALO option is disabled. So the D60 is no slouch, its dynamic range stacks up with the best of the best. It's just that the D40x was really extraordinary in this regard.
But we found the D60 did tend to lose highlight detail a little early under contrasty lighting. It seems a lot of its dynamic range capability comes at the lower end of the tone scale. In other words, if you're faced with really strong highlights, underexpose to hold onto detail in them. You'll be able to pull quite a bit of detail back up out of the shadows in the image.
With the $699.95 Nikon D60, Nikon continues what's been an exceptionally successful line of cameras that started with the D40 (which is still widely available at very low prices). As a follow-up to the D40x, the D60 maintains most of the same specs and features, but adds a number of minor features in the camera body and a new, better-quality VR kit lens at a list price $50 lower than its predecessor.
Existing Nikon owners should note that like the D40 and D40x, the D60 can only autofocus with AF-S lenses. Those who want to attach a short, fast prime (non-zoom) lens for indoor low-light shooting should also note that Nikon doesn't currently make any such lenses in AF-S. The good news, however, is the D60's low light performance at ISO 1600 is excellent, even without noise reduction turned on. It's so good that we don't really feel like we're pushing the D60 until we jump up to ISO 3200.
The upgraded kit lens has eliminated one of our few areas of disappointment with the D40x. The lens on the D60 is noticeably better optically and includes Nikon's excellent VR technology in the bargain. There's still a bit more chromatic aberration at the wide-angle end than we'd like to see but the earlier kit lens's issues with flare seem to be entirely banished.
No matter how you look at it, the D60 stands up well against the competition, with great image quality at all speeds and near-perfect utility as a family camera. It's great fun to use (your kids will have a blast with its stop-action animation feature), polite, attractive and well-built -- just the kind of companion you want to have along on your next family outing. The D60 still doesn't really obsolete the D40, which we continue to recommend strongly and list as a Dave's Pick, but it's a bet better in a few key areas and offers a range of added features, high praise indeed. Own either and you'll know why we've made the D60 a Dave's Pick.
At http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM you can keep track of what's new on our main site. Among the highlights since the last issue:
- Reviewed: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/H50/H50A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/FX35/FX35A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Nikon D60 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/ND60/ND60A.HTM)
- Article: The Fallibility of Focus (http://www.slrgear.com). Dave explains why it's so hard to test a lens.
- New Raw Downloads: Our galleries now add a link under the JPEG filename if a Raw capture is also available. Clicking on the link opens a new page that shows a thumbnail of the image, reports the file size and links the filename to a download of the Raw file. These pups are big, so be kind to our bandwidth.
We've banged the drum for the benefits of image stabilization (or, for Nikonians, vibration reduction) so long your ears must be throbbing. But there's one aspect of the indispensable feature we haven't discussed.
Just to refresh your memory, image stabilization has two benefits.
At the telephoto end of a long zoom lens, it functions in continuous mode like a third hand to steady the camera enough to get the subject in the frame. When you finally press the shutter, it compensates for the effect of camera shake. Images that would be blurred by the shaking camera are sharp.
But you don't have to be using a long focal length to benefit from image stabilization. Without it, the slowest shutter speed most of us can use without blurring the image from camera shake is probably 1/30 or 1/60 second. But turn on image stabilization and you can shoot at much slower shutter speeds, capturing natural light shots that were previously only possible on a tripod.
There are two ways of achieving image stabilization. Some companies like Sony and Olympus offer it in their camera bodies, shifting the sensor to compensate for camera movement. Others like Canon and Nikon offer it in certain lenses where a lens element does the shifting.
The guys in the lab have been hard at work devising torture tests for image stabilization systems. They've actually managed to measure degrees of blur and have developed spreadsheets to crunch, grind and pulverize the numbers into some meaningful ratings. But like focus (see Dave's article The Fallibility of Focus at http://www.slrgear.com), it's a difficult problem to get a handle on. When you throw in factors like focal length, photographer jitters, shutter lag and autofocus, "difficult" hardly describes it. So they're still fine-tuning their tests.
Meanwhile, we can't help speculating about the general pros and cons of the in-camera and the lens-shift approaches. It's the one thing we haven't discussed here.
But one of the earliest comparisons appeared in Dave's Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D review (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/MAX7/D7A.HTM). Dave compared a Canon 28-135mm IS lens and a Minolta 7D with body-based stabilization.
Dave wrote, "The big question is how well the 7D's anti-shake works. The short answer seems to be 'pretty well.' We conducted some tests against a Canon IS lens (a 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS model) on a Digital Rebel against the 7D's in-body anti-shake and found the 7D edged the Canon lens slightly at 50mm and the two solutions were in more or less a dead heat at 135mm. Minolta's in-body anti-shake approach does seem to be more effective at shorter focal lengths than longer ones, which is what we'd expected to see. At long focal lengths, small amounts of body movement will result in relatively large amounts of image blurring. Any body-based anti-shake system would have to be exceptionally sensitive to correct for image blurring with long telephoto lenses."
When we asked Dave what he's learned since then, he said, "In general, we're finding that the best of the body-based stabilization isn't quite as good as the best of the lens-based stabilization. We're seeing results from body-based stabilization systems in the 2 to 2.5 stop range, from lens-based systems in the 2 to 3.5 stop range."
In our own experience with digicam and dSLR systems (both of which might use either approach), the advantages of stabilized lenses have been two. The system can be tuned to that particular lens and they stabilize the image you see in the viewfinder, too (not just the image captured by the sensor).
The disadvantage of lens-based systems, however, is that you pay more for a stabilized lens and you can't stabilize lenses that don't already include the feature.
The advantages of in-body stabilization, on the other hand, are the two very obvious ones. It extends stabilization to any lens mounted on the camera and you pay for it only once.
But body-based systems have a weakness of their own. They're good at closer range, as Dave noticed long ago, but can't sufficiently correct for movement at longer focal lengths. If it takes a centimeter shift to correct shake at 200mm, you have room to do that in the lens that you just don't have in the camera body.
Until we hear from the lab guys, the rule of thumb is that if you do a lot of natural light shooting at wide angle with various optics, the convenience of a body-based system may be the best approach for you. And if you shoot a lot of telephoto, a lens-shift system may be the ticket for you.
Visit the Imaging Resource discussion forums at http://www.photo-forums.com to find out what people are saying about the latest digicams, hard-to-find accessories, friendly suppliers, clever techniques, you name it! Recent hot topics include:
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RE: Scanner Software
We have a Microtek 9600XL flatbed scanner. We want to install Mac OS 10 on our Macs. We are currently using Scan Wizard Pro. I can't seem to find a version of this software that will run on Mac OS 10 through Adobe CS3 using this scanner. Do you have suggestions?
-- Jean Easton(Interesting problem, Jean. The Microtek support page for the 9600XL has versions up to 10.2 (http://support.microtek.com/downloads/bymodelname.phtml?srch_in=9600XL&axn=2&slct_mdl=26). We appreciate your desire to stick with the software you already know, but if that doesn't work, up-to-date third-party alternatives include LaserSoft's SilverFast (http://www.silverfast.com/product/Microtek/176/en.html) and VueScan (http://www.hamrick.com), both of which we've reviewed. -- Editor)
RE: Imaging Slides
Since you write a lot of reviews for scanners I thought you might know if there is such a unit that can scan digital images and convert them to slides. Many photo labs can do it, so I know it's possible.
-- Constance(Yes, it's possible (and a mainstay of the movie business, too) but not with a scanner. The device you need is called a film recorder. Feed it a digital image and it exposes film at very high resolution. The film is then conventionally processed by the lab. There are no models designed for the home user and the pro models are not inexpensive. If you don't need high quality, however, you can simply photograph your monitor displaying the image using a 35mm camera loading with slide film. -- Editor)
RE: Photos of the Day
I realize that all of these exquisite Photos of the Day are copyrighted. How may I purchase copies of my favorites for my own use?
-- Noreen(That's up to each photographer, actually. We'll forward your request, though. -- Editor)
Just popped into my head -- how about a feed-back forum on the Photo of the Day? When I post pics anywhere, I am interested in what the viewers think.
-- Bob(Oh, we know what they think, Bob. They're all insanely jealous <g>. (But not a bad idea, you know. We'll discuss it at the virtual water cooler. Thanks! -- Editor)
DataRescue has updated PhotoRescue with improved movie recovery, variable sized thumbnails, new Raw formats and a couple of bug fixes. As always, you can download the latest versions from our antique review (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/PHR/PHR.HTM).
Master Colors (http://www.master-colors.com) is offering a new course of color composition tutorials, each featuring a downloadable Photoshop template from the works of Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse.
Andrey Tverdokhleb (http://www.raw-photo-processor.com) has released his free Raw Photo Processor 3.7.5 [M] to convert Raw files, including those from Canon digicams using CHDK.
LQ Graphics (http://www.lqgraphics.com) has released its $49.95 Photo to Movie 4.1.2 [MW] with a Color Drop transition, improved performance, better timeline drawing, improved pan angle control for QTVR and more.
Paul Van Roekel (http://www.paulvanroekel.nl/picasa) has 19 free portfolio templates for Picasa.
Nolobe (http://nolobe.com) has introduced its $79 Iris [M] image editor, which we previewed in our Macworld Expo coverage earlier this year (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/MWSF08/mw-tue.htm#iri).
Phanfare (http://www.phanfare.com) has developed a camera application for the new iPhone store that allows users to share iPhone photos on the Web with a single click. The photos are moved wirelessly to the Internet where they are immediately visible to friends and family and archivally stored.
Photoflex (http://www.photoflex.com) has announced four summer promotions on its high-quality, versatile lighting equipment. Deals are available for the Starfalsh 300 Gemini umbrella kit, the Constellation3 kit, the LitePanel kit and the Starlight QL fixture.
The L.A. Center for Digital Art (http://lacda.com) has announced another juried competition. All styles of artwork and photography where digital processes of any kind were integral to their creation are acceptable: digital art stills of any kind, digital photogaphy, short experimental time based video, video loops, mobile media, interactive media and Internet art. Selected winners will be exhibited as the central focus of the "DigitalArt.LA" expo in a large group exhibit at the LACDA gallery, Aug. 14 to Sept. 6.
Don't miss the Smithsonian Institution's photostream (http://flickr.com/photos/smithsonian) on flickr.
For just $150 per insertion you can list your URL or 800 number here (up to a maximum of 70 text characters).
Digital Photography Tutorials for Beginners: http://www.photoxels.com
Curtin Short Courses: http://imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?bdc
That's it for now, but between issues visit our site for the latest news, reviews, or to have your questions answered in our free discussion forum. Here are the links to our most popular pages:
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Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher