The IMAGING RESOURCE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
NEWSLETTER


Volume 10, Number 19 12 September 2008

Copyright 2008, The Imaging Resource. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the 236th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. While it's remarkable that the Chihuly exhibit in San Franciso featuring his fanciful glass sculpture actually lets you take photos, it's even more remarkable how well they come out. We give you a few tips for using a digicam or dSLR. Shawn not only managed to lift the Sony full-frame A900 but he even put it down to write a user report on the new Alpha flagship dSLR. We found a new book series with a friendly approach to learning about your dSLR that focuses on photos rather than just camera controls. Finally, we pass along a few helpful notes on shooting video (now that even a dSLR can do it). We'll stick with playing the piano.


TOPICS

SPONSORS
This issue is sponsored in part by the following companies. Please tell them you saw their ads here. And now a word from our sponsors:
Sony
http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?sy3

There's more to see when you move away from the viewfinder.

The new Sony Alpha dSLR camera has a tiltable Live View LCD screen that gives you a real-time view of what you're shooting, so you can capture every moment without being glued to the viewfinder.

  • 2.7" Live View screen tilts up or down for low or high-angle shots
  • 14.2 megapixel image sensor delivers the highest resolution in its class
  • Super SteadyShot in-camera image stabilization
  • A broad sensitivity range enables you to capture beautiful color images even in very dim light

Learn more at: http://www.imaging-resource.com/cgi-bin/nl/pl.cgi?sy3


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Feature: Shooting Chihuly

We were getting our arm twisted by our physical therapist when she asked if we'd seen the Chihuly exhibit at the de Young. Dale Chihuly is a glass blower from Seattle who has taken the medium from cordial classes and figurines to forests and ceilings. Kenneth Baker, a local art critic, had just chastised the museum for pandering to blockbuster crowds by displaying merely decorative pieces with no intellectual content (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/07/04/DD9811I6MN.DTL).

Of course that's how we got Manhattan.

We hadn't been yet, we confessed as she tightened her grip, but it was on our list, we promised. We'd seen a PBS documentary on him a while ago, which we remembered for his installation in Jerusalem (http://www.chihuly.com/jerusalem/jerusalem.html), a show that transported huge blocks of ice for a night time light show that were left to melt in the hot sun of the Middle East. It sounded like fun.

PHOTOS OK

And the attraction of seeing bright, shiny, colorful shapes of glass creating their own landscape of drips and bowls and spikes and balls has been greatly enhanced by Chihuly's generous decision to allow photography of his work. Baker perhaps would find that self-serving (and it no doubt counts as 1,000 times more valuable than mere word of mouth if a picture really is worth a thousand words).

But the stuff photographs very well (no flash, incidentally). We took a Panasonic TZ50 with us on one occasion and a Nikon D300 on two others. We also observed a lot of camphones at work (mainly in the hands of young girls, madly shaking them left to right as they took a picture). Digicams predominated (both compacts and long zooms), but there were quite a few dSLRs in each room, too.

That's because the rooms are packed with people, no doubt. Entry is timed so don't expect to get right in. You may have a half hour or hour wait (but there's plenty to amuse yourself with upstairs).

DIGICAM SETTINGS

While the glass is well lit with white spotlights, the background is theatrical black. Depending on how you frame your shot, that contrast can confuse your camera. But most cameras using center-weighted metering with the subject in the center of the frame will do fine in Auto or Program mode, especially if you fill the frame with glass.

That's how we shot the show with the Panasonic TZ50. The LCD showed us right away if there was any serious trouble with the shot, of course. We did enable ISO up to 1600 and our shots that included some black in the background tapped into that, while shots whose frames were filled with colorful glass were at ISO 800. On occasion we did crank down the exposure -1 EV.

Shooting the explanatory placards is a good idea but they are particularly poorly lit in this exhibit. Still, you should get an image that's readable. Zoom in on the image in Playback mode to check.

The biggest problem we had was capturing the reds, but the problem was exaggerated on the camera's small LCD. On the computer, the reds were not as washed out as they appeared on the camera.

So we were glad we left the TZ50's white balance set on Auto.

DSLR SETTINGS

With the dSLR, we had a lot more options. Because the rooms are so dark, we took a clue from our TZ50 shots and bumped up the ISO to a conservative, noise-free ISO 800. We left the white balance set on Auto again, unsure what the source really was. Our first test shots confirmed the camera could figure it out, so we didn't set a custom white balance.

With the large crowds, we weren't really in a position to fine tune exposure from shot to shot, so we settled on Shutter Priority mode with a borderline handheld setting of 1/30 second and Vibration Reduction enabled on our zoom lens to help steady that. Sometimes the window we had to get the shot we wanted was almost as fleeting as at a sporting event.

We also tended, the second time around, to shoot more of the black background, isolating the profile of a piece rather than shooting it whole, or concentrating on the line of a bowl's lip or the color of its shell. So we also underexposed -0.7 EV. The glass was still bright and the color accurate but the dark background was submerged.

We used Active D-Lighting (something we normally do anyway) in Normal mode because these were high-contrast shots. We shot everything as Raw + JPEG and were quite pleased with the JPEGs we brought home.

For the most part, we weren't interested in capturing much depth of field and instead relied on selective focus (tweaking auto focus with a twist to the focus ring now and then) to highlight one shape or piece in a field of color.

The second time we visited with the D300, we shot in Manual mode at ISO 800. Shutter speed varied from 1/15 to 1/30 second (thanks to the Vibration Reduction lens we used) while apertures ranged from wide open (at whatever focal length we used) to f7.1. Except for Active D-Lighting, there were no other enhancements.

If you're doing this right, the histogram is going to be well clipped in the darks (merging the distracting background detail into black). But you should have some data at the right end. Exposures were very similar to our Aperture Priority shots but we worked a lot harder to get them, bracketing f-stops along the way.

Oddly enough, our exposures were in the same range for the public picture galleries. So, despite the dramatic difference in appearance, the light levels appear to be quite similar.

COMPOSITION

In rooms with larger pieces we enjoyed leaning against the back wall, twisting our zoom to wide angle and even dropping into Live View mode to snatch an overall shot of the piece with the crowd silhouetted in front of it. There was always time later to sneak in closer, squat down and get a different angle of the piece.

Filling the frame with a brightly colored bowl, cropping the left and right sides so the edge cut through the image like a knife led to some interesting images as well. Again, it was easy to zoom out and shoot the whole piece for reference, but the fun was in cropping the line and color. And not just bowls, either. All sorts of spikes and swirls and dips and tips profited from closer inspection than an overall view could give.

Oh, and that camera shaking we mentioned? Turns out the camphones use too slow a shutter to get a sharp handheld shot, so the trick was to really blur the color. Special FX, you know.

CONCLUSION

There's something compelling about the bright color of blown glass in the subdued palette of our natural world, something about that shine in our otherwise dusty environment which promises only inevitable corrosion. Whether it's art or not, we leave for you to decide. But if you bring your camera to the show, you may actually make some art of your own.

Return to Topics.

Feature: Sony Alpha A900 User Report

By SHAWN BARNETT
(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/AA900/AA900A.HTM on the Web site.)

It takes but a glance to see the Sony Alpha A900 is unique among modern dSLR cameras. The large, pyramidal shape behind the Sony logo suggests that a very large pentaprism glass element lies underneath. A quick glance through the viewfinder completes the impression: it's like a room in there, into which it seems you might fall if you're not careful. 35mm camera owners from the last century will find the A900's viewfinder comforting, then quickly forget about it and begin composing with an impressive photographic tool.

Like its predecessor the Sony A700, the A900 is big and boxy, not attempting to appear sleek. It looks more like a big industrial device, as cameras once did. Yet it fits well in the hand: a machine to the eye that is nevertheless well crafted for the human intended to use it.

Its weight is substantial, at 2.07 pounds without a lens, but with a battery and CF card (that's lighter than the Nikon D700 and just a little heavier than the Canon 5D); and it measures 6.1x4.6x3.2 inches. Add the Zeiss 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens and the A900 really gets heavy, coming in at 4.17 pounds.

The front panel looks a lot like the A700, though the handgrip bulges a bit more into the hand and the Mode dial is positioned straight and level, while the A700's was mounted at a slant. Missing from the front of the grip is the Grip-sensor that was part of the Eye-start AF system.

The grip has a comfortable finger groove for the middle finger, in which the infrared Remote Commander sensor is nestled. The inside of the grip is indented for a better finger grip, as is the front of the camera between the grip and lens, which is fairly obvious in the photo above: a very nice touch that those with long fingers will appreciate. Textured rubber surrounds the grip areas both left and right of the lens. The bottom of the body on the left (on the right side in this image) is tapered to allow a more comfortable fit into your palm as you reach your fingers around to the lens barrel.

The rear of the A900 is similar to the Sony A700. The LCD, which takes up less space because there's more width, is the same resolution as on the A700, with 921,600 pixels and a transflective (both transmissive and reflective) design, meaning that in bright daylight you can still frame images. Checking exposure accurately is a little harder, but that's what histograms are for. Though it's a hot feature on many of the latest dSLRs, the A900 has no Live View mode; however, there is a new Intelligent Preview mode that can serve on occasion and do a few tricks.

Note that though there are still infrared sensors beneath the optical viewfinder, these are only for turning off the LCD when you put the camera up to your eye; Eye-start AF is no longer a feature on the A900.

The rear Status display also opens up the option to change many settings right on the screen. Just press the Fn (function) button and use the joystick above it to navigate around the screen. Pressing down on the joystick activates your selection, which you can modify with one or the other control wheel (the rear or front wheel). It'll take a little time to figure out which wheel is necessary for each item, unfortunately. Some use only the front, others use both.

There is no pop-up flash on the A900, due partly to the very large pentaprism inside. Many of the A900's intermediate owners will miss the convenience of a pop-up flash, as an external flash unit significantly raises the weight of an already large and heavy camera.

The Mode dial on the left has only full Auto, Program, Aperture, Shutter and Manual modes, plus three user-programmable Custom modes; there are no Scene modes. To the right there's a new top status display, one that's very simple compared to most high-end dSLR cameras. It displays only numbers, usually the shutter speed and aperture values, along with remaining frames available.

Some settings like ISO and EV are easily readable via the top Status LCD, but items like Drive and WB can be cryptic, so it's better to use the rear Status display. An illumination button just right of the LCD turns on an orange light, which Sony representatives jokingly insist is the same cinnabar orange that adorns the Alpha logo, lens ring and other assorted accent areas.

The other four buttons on the top control Exposure Compensation, Drive mode, White balance and ISO, working in concert with the rear control dial. While the front buttons for Exposure compensation and Drive mode are easy to press, we found the other two a little harder, comfortable with neither the thumb nor forefinger without removing your hand from the grip.

The A900's rubber doors are the best-behaved doors we've seen on any camera, swinging open and staying put, rather than flapping shut when you let them go. In clockwise order from the top left, they are Remote, HDMI, USB/Video out and DC In.

A900 owners will have the option of using CompactFlash or Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo format. Unfortunately, switching between cards is not automatic when one fills up, as is common on other dual-card digital cameras; still, you can access it on the rear Status display, which turns into an onscreen menu when you press the Fn (Function) button.

SteadyShot INSIDE. Sony says many experts thought adding sensor-shift image stabilization to a full-frame dSLR would be impossible, but they managed to get it done nevertheless. They're moving a very large sensor at high speeds, so it is quite an achievement. We haven't tested it in the lab yet, but in casual shooting it seemed to work quite well. Sony expects it offer from 2.5 to 4 stops of exposure latitude.

Though all of us like seeing the stabilizing effects of Canon and Nikon's optical image stabilization through the viewfinder, we also like the five-bar meter that appears in the optical viewfinder to tell you just how much the SteadyShot system has to work.

The same mechanism activates at startup and shutdown to shake dust from the sensor and a new anti-static coating has been applied to the outermost glass to reduce the amount of dust that can stick to the sensor.

Improved EV bracketing. Recent Sony dSLR cameras were limited to only two automatic bracketing settings: +/- 0.3 EV or +/- 0.7 EV. The A900 allows a full spread of EV options, up to +/- 2.0 EV, a more useful spread.

Sensor. Sony's Exmor CMOS sensor is what gives the A900 its magic. Its pixels are actually larger than the Sony A700's 10-megapixel sensor, which should make for greater ISO sensitivity. The 24.6-Mp sensor is more than just a sensor, however, as it includes the analog to digital conversion circuitry right on board the chip. Over 6,000 A/D converters work in parallel to convert the image data before electronic noise can take hold. That makes for fast data acquisition too.

Processors. From there, the dual Bionz processors take the large files and crank them through fast enough to allow up to five frames per second capture, even in Raw + JPEG capture.

Power like that also allows for sophisticated functions like Peripheral Illumination correction, which fixes vignetting problems in many situations.

AF system. The A900 has a new autofocus system with nine primary autofocus points, and ten supplemental AF points. The user can select the nine AF points, but the ten additional points are used by the system to enhance the performance of the others when the A900 is set to wide-area AF mode. A larger sensor in the center of the frame switches on when lenses of f/2.8 or larger are attached, allowing the system to take advantage of the larger aperture.

If you choose to use the Local AF mode, you can select from the nine AF points in the viewfinder with the joystick on the rear panel. Choose Wide, and the Sony A900 will choose for you. Choose Spot and the A900 uses the more accurate center AF point.

Lens compatibility. While the A900 is compatible with the company's DT-series lenses, many of them, if not most, will vignette significantly with the full frame camera, since they were designed to deliver a smaller image circle to the company's APS-C format cameras. When a DT lens is mounted, the camera automatically captures an APS-C sized frame. Only four thin brackets inside the viewfinder indicate where the cropping will occur; it does not gray-out as seen on the Nikon D3. Incidentally, you can choose to shoot an APS-C sized image when a full-frame lens is mounted in Settings menu 4. The image captured is 11 megapixels maximum in that mode.

USING THE A900

Though the A900 is large and heavy with the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8 mounted, I quickly came to accept that burden and just enjoyed shooting with the camera. It's a little like moving from driving a nice car to driving a big truck. Handling is different, somewhat unfamiliar at first, even a little ungainly, but soon you're tooling along like you've been driving a big truck for years.

The big Carl Zeiss optic is beautiful and both looks and feels terribly precise. Focus and zoom rings are tight and smooth. Even the metal and plastic lens shade is perfection. It mounts to the machined bayonet slot tighter than a piston ring and snaps briskly into place.

That big optical viewfinder is wonderful and it does indeed seem to show 100 percent of the frame, to my surprise. Sometimes it was an unwelcome surprise, because I'm used to framing with tighter, less accurate viewfinders. Often when I thought I'd get away without stepping back to include just a little more of the subject's boundaries in a tight shot, I found that the A900 was instead quite faithful to what I saw in the viewfinder. Gone was the slop I had come to count on from other dSLRs, whose viewfinders seldom show more than 95 percent of the frame.

Intelligent preview. Sony's innovative use of a limited Raw file to create the A900's Intelligent preview is useful in a number of ways. Though it's meant to be used to subtly tweak a sample image before making the real exposure, I found myself using it more often as a substitute for Live View mode when I couldn't get my eye to the viewfinder. I just pressed the Depth-of-field button to make sample exposure after sample exposure until it was framed just right, then pressed the shutter release. Intelligent preview is really better used for tripod work, where your framing is already set. It's designed to let you pick just the right white balance, exposure compensation or DRO mode. If you're in Aperture priority mode, you can also adjust your aperture -- though you won't see a depth-of-field change; it's not that good. Similarly, you can adjust Shutter speed if in Shutter priority mode. Of course in Manual mode, you can adjust everything. Intelligent preview is pretty useful.

Many A900 users will wonder why they can't just save the image they've tweaked, rather than take another exposure. The simple answer is that the A900 only captures a very limited-resolution Raw file to make quick, on-camera processing easier, thus delivering an adjusted image to the LCD as fast as you need it. If you accidentally captured that perfect smile when you pressed the Intelligent preview button, though, you'll just have to say goodbye to perfection and try again.

Shooting. Despite its size, the A900 is really fun to shoot. The big viewfinder makes looking around in your potential image more like detail work than a rough framing job, as it is with most dSLRs. You can carefully consider what's in focus and select another focus point by moving the joystick (provided you've chosen to use Local AF area mode) to another position. As with the Canon 5D, the diamond-shaped AF array is small for the overall viewfinder area, which isn't as good for portrait compositions as you'll find in the A700 or Canon 40D, for example, as it's harder to get an AF point close to one of the subject's eyes in a head-and-shoulders shot.

The shutter sound tells of a very large mirror, one moving as fast as its large size will allow. We're told that the mirror is extra large not just for the full frame, but also to deliver that 100 percent viewfinder area.

The shutter lifts, rather than flips up. It's a pretty cool compromise, necessary to accommodate the large SteadyShot engine, we're told, while still allowing that large mirror. The sound is just a simple click-click, with no winding sound, so it feels nostalgic and does the job without a lot of fanfare. Viewfinder blackout time is supposed to be improved, but it's still a little slower than I like. Again, it's a big mirror.

The A900 is also able to shoot up to five frames per second, quite a feat for a 24.6-Mp camera with a full-frame sensor. Its 1/8000 second shutter speed makes it an impressive action camera, rivaling its more expensive high-res competition, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, which also captures five frames per second. The shutter mechanism is rated for 100,000 cycles.

Checking. Seeing whether you got the shot after capture is key and of course the A900's high-res 3-inch LCD really helps on that score. You always have to be careful with transflective displays, however, especially in sunlight. This can be complicated by using DRO modes, which, combined with the transflective display's metallic look, can make you think a shot is washed out more than it is. You can get used to this and adjust accordingly, as I have, but checking the histogram is also a good habit, as is taking a few extra shots or shooting Raw when the work is critical.

One disadvantage to the Playback system on a 24.6-Mp camera is that it's very slow to bring an image up, especially if it's still writing to the card. I've pressed the Playback button a second time and then a third, only to have the image finally flash to the screen after three seconds, then disappear for another two seconds, then reappear. Sometimes it gets even worse before I remember to just wait five or six seconds to see where the camera is in the cycle.

Once images are saved to the card, flipping between them is easy and very fast. Just don't get stuck in Index mode, activated with the Display button. It takes some time to bring up those five thumbnails across the top. It's convenient if you have time, but not if you don't.

Size has a price. There are those who go for the biggest and the best and they're likely to slap down their largest credit card on the A900 for 24.6 million little reasons. But while they're at it, I suggest they check their computer hardware and either upgrade or at least invest in redundant, multi-terabyte disks, because the A900's files are huge. A typical outing for me is filling a 4-GB card in a hot hurry. Some of that's shooting Raw, some of it is just the JPEGs I shoot, which average from 7 to 18-MB each. Yes, I said 18-MB.

Thankfully, Sony at least planned for the larger files and created a USB download pathway that is probably the fastest we've ever tested, moving 12,928KBytes per second. Still, when you take as many test shots as we do, it's a huge ordeal to move all these images around. The sample photos we've posted total almost 4-GB of data.

CONCLUSION

Sony started the year promising a lot for their flagship camera. We didn't have a name, nor a long list of features, but we did know that the sensor would be a 24.6-Mp design that was expected to impress. It certainly has done that.

The A900 is a formidable camera. It's big, which won't work for everyone, but I found it more than bearable with my medium-sized hands and even my daughter had no trouble hefting the A900 with the 24-70mm f2.8 attached and firing off a few frames.

If you want the most pixels in a small package, the A900 is where you'll find it. It's bulky, but less so than the more expensive 1Ds Mark III and that makes it easier to bring along. I enjoyed shooting with the 24-70mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss so much that I recommend it if you can afford it. I recently attached the 18-70mm kit lens that comes with the A200 and the A900 felt quite a bit more bearable, though I can only imagine that high-res sensor would reveal all the flaws in that less-expensive lens.

Image quality is Sony's best so far; not just in terms of resolution, but also in controlling their impulse to squelch all noise at the expense of detail. You can even turn off the high-ISO noise suppression that was once inaccessible.

Not only is the viewfinder so big and beautiful that you think you might fall in, the image quality has the same effect when you view the images on your computer. With the ability to capture full frame images at a high clip, the A900 is one impressive image maker and a certain Dave's Pick.

Return to Topics.

New on the Site

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:

Return to Topics.

Book Bag: Focal Digital Camera Guides -- Nikon D60

Our bookcase is gracefully bowed with heavy (weight-wise and technically) Focal Press books. They look like the kind of things you'd see in your doctor's office. Their titles are dead boring (things like Faults in Photographic Processing) but there is nothing else like them for answer tough technical questions. And that's why they're still on the shelf.

The Focal Press imprint has embarked on an even tougher technical task with the launch of a new series for new photographers with new dSLRs. The Focal Digital Camera Guides will debut with four titles this fall, covering the Nikon D60, Canon Rebel XSi, Sony A200 and Sony A300/350 (authored by our own Shawn Barnett).

It's a tougher task because the audience for these books is impatient to start shooting with tools that can be very disappointing initially. Bringing them up to speed quickly and intelligently is no piece of cake.

We've just read through the first book in this series, which discusses the Nikon D60. And we're going to recycle it immediately by giving it to our niece who just bought one. Her first question was whether she should leave the lens on all the time or take it off and put the body cap on when not in use.

This book answers questions just like that.

In fact, it's really two books in one. The first book (more of a pamphlet, really) addresses that impatience to get started using the camera. Nothing can reduce the 90 minutes it takes to charge the battery, of course, but the Quick Start Guide can indeed get you out there shooting pictures in five minutes or less after that battery is charged. It explains how to get a good exposure, how to focus on your subject, how to review the image and delete it if you want.

A What's in the Box and a Virtual Section both precede the Guide so you can make sure you have what Nikon sold (and not what some shifty operator unbundled) and understand what's what on the camera body.

Then you get into the meat of the book (where the page numbering actually starts). That's neatly carved into six sections that will open your eyes to the dSLR system world. You didn't just buy a camera, after all. You invested in the Canon, Nikon or Sony photographic system.

The six sections cover the Camera, the Software, the Light, the Lenses, Composition & the Subjects and Accessories. Most camera guides cover the camera and lenses with a nod to accessories but the mysteries of dealing with software and using the camera to make pictures like the ones you see in National Geographic are usually given very little attention.

In fact, the very first section of the Camera is called Making Pictures. Rather than overwhelming the new owner with a parts inventory of the camera, it explains how to get four common effects by controlling aperture and shutter speed. How to have just one element in focus or everything. How to freeze a moving subject or blur it. It's a very clear and fundamentally sound explanation that will be instantly grasped by anyone who reads it.

Or looks at it, we should say, because author Corey Hilz doesn't just tell you how to do this, he shows you. There is not a page of the book (apart from the chapter introductions) that doesn't have at least one full-color illustration (and the rule is several) to show you what Hilz is talking about.

So he gets you going right away and, when you have a second, he gently explains what's going on, showing you how to do this or that. And Hilz doesn't shy away from the complexities, which he calls challenges. He simply points out some of the things to watch out for in a straightforward list. That makes the inevitable failures less frustrating and more intriguing.

Even technically nasty subjects like sensor cleaning are nicely handled. Hilz tells you all your options from sending the camera back to Nikon, finding a local dealer or learning to do it yourself. But he also covers how to minimize the chance of dust getting on the sensor and does recommend the D60's clever sensor cleaning function.

The software section thoroughly covers the included Nikon software bundle of Transfer, ViewNX and Capture NX. These may not be your first choice (say, if you are already using iPhoto or Picasa), but they aren't often explained outside brief reviews.

The lenses section is particularly well done, explaining concepts like Vibration Reduction and things like lens hoods. It doesn't overwhelm you with recommendations but explains your options as you find your own preferences with the kit lens.

Every section is liberally sprinkled with tips in sidebars of their own in a very thorough introduction to modern dSLR photography.

We'd say more but we have something of an emergency here. We have to get this title to our niece before she starts firing questions at us. As soon as she's got it, we'll back to just blowing kisses to each other on our birthdays.

Focal Digital Camera Guides: Nikon D60 by Corey Hilz, published by Focal Press, 248 pages, $19.95 (or $13.57 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0240810686/?tag=theimagingres-20).
Return to Topics.

Advanced Mode: Playing the Video Game

With the introduction of the Nikon D90, movie making has finally come to dSLRs. But it's been on camphones and digicams so long now we suspect you're no stranger to the occasional video clip. Or are you?

Despite the extraordinary amount of time we all spend in front of the television, video savvy does not come naturally from watching the stuff. It takes some study.

Michael Reichmann at the Luminous Landscape (http://www.luminous-landscape.com) has just published his Understanding Video essay for still photographers who are newcomers to video. He's dubbed the new generation of movie-making dSLRs (more to come, everyone says) combocams and started a new discussion forum on them, too.

In his new piece, Reichmann discusses the difference between shooting stills and video, arguing that movies need to move to tell a story. "A still image captures a moment in time at a particular location. A motion picture (film or video) has a temporal as well as a spatial element, involving both a succession of places and moments."

He also talks about the importance of audio quality, an aspect of this genre that's not immediately obvious to still photographers. On our last birthday an old friend sent us DVDs of a couple of movies we made together when we were in high school. The audio track was originally on a reel-to-reel tape, which he had converted to CD. But it had been so long, he wasn't sure which audio went with which film. So we watched the film (with its necessarily abrupt cuts but some clever double exposure showing our newly-built high school campus burning up) without audio and played the audio without the film. Audio carried the real impact, we realized.

Derrick Story (http://www.thedigitalstory.com) blogged about the D90's audio after playing with it at Photoshop World recently. "The audio recording isn't great. But the D90 will pick up mono audio from an on-camera mic. You'll probably want to use a separate recorder and sync the two files together."

While you expect to find a built-in mic on any camera that offers video, we can't think of any still cameras that offer an audio-in jack, standard equipment on camcorders. As Derrick points out, you may have to work a lot harder than you think to do credible video on a still camera.

Incidentally, if you're shooting with any device that has only a built-in mic, you might be interested in an old Popular Photography Tip of the Day (http://flash.popphoto.com/blog/2007/05/tip_of_the_day__17.html). Stephen Uber suggested using the "gauze-like padding of an adhesive bandage" to muffle wind noise. He just taped it over the grill.

But the most impressive piece on video we've run across recently was written by Roger Ebert, the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. It's a long URL (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/08/how_to_read_a_movie.html) but a quick read, entitled How to Read a Movie. He sums it up in one long paragraph:

"In simplistic terms: Right is more positive, left more negative. Movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left. The top is dominant over the bottom. The foreground is stronger than the background. Symmetrical compositions seem at rest. Diagonals in a composition seem to 'move' in the direction of the sharpest angle they form, even though of course they may not move at all. Therefore, a composition could lead us into a background that becomes dominant over a foreground. Tilt shots of course put everything on a diagonal, implying the world is out of balance. I have the impression that more tilts are down to the right than to the left, perhaps suggesting the characters are sliding perilously into their futures. Left tilts to me suggest helplessness, sadness, resignation. Few tilts feel positive. Movement is dominant over things that are still. A POV [point of view] above a character's eyeline reduces him; below the eyeline, enhances him. Extreme high angle shots make characters into pawns; low angles make them into gods. Brighter areas tend to be dominant over darker areas, but far from always: Within the context, you can seek the 'dominant contrast,' which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower, and so on. It can be as effective to go against intrinsic weightings as to follow them."

Got all that? Well, you do in way, from all that viewing you've done. It's taught you to read a movie that way, though, as Ebert says, these aren't rules and they're broken all the time (except by Alfred Hitchcock). They're more an audience's expectation than rules.

You may be as amused as we were to note that "reading" a movie in this way is a lot like reading period, a left to right affair in the Western world. We have to wonder if other cultures with a right to left approach read movies in quite the same way.

Playing the video game is easy. Playing it well is not.

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In the Forums

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We Have Mail

You can email us at editor@imaging-resource.com. You can read our Letters policy at http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS in the FAQ.

RE: Lee Miller

Thanks for including the story about and the link to the work of Lee Miller. The more I read, the more I wanted to keep reading and venture deeper into the fascinating life of this talented, assertive and free-spirited woman. Well done, gentlemen.

-- Gil Coon

(Thanks, Gil! We were happy to find some great online references on her work to share with people who couldn't get to the show. But her biography itself is worthy of a book or movie, you would think. -- Editor)

RE: Copying Records

I hate to bother you, but you have responded to me in the past with very good advice.

I want to copy to disc my parish records of baptism, marriage, death, etc. These books are 9x14 inches. What sort of equipment do I need?

-- Fr. Edward M. Bryce

(Are they books? If you can lay the pages flat (the binding has to cooperate here), any scanner that handles legal sized sheets just about fits the bill (that 9-inch requirement will have to settle for 8.75 inches, though). Reflective scanning is generally very well handled even by lower-end units from Canon and HP (although we just noted an inexpensive Epson in our last newsletter). Time consuming but you'll get very good quality.... That would be slower going than actually photographing them, though. The trouble with photography is it can be a nuisance to set up a copy stand and correctly align the camera (temporarily put a mirror at the center of the document and manipulate the camera until you can see the lens in the mirror through the camera's viewfinder). And it's a bit less quality, too, interpolating the color and introducing some lens distortion. But if you're doing research on the road, it can't be beat. -- Editor)

RE: Day Brightening

No questions to ask....

Just wanted to say hi and let you know that I really enjoy your newsletter! It always brightens my day to find your latest in my inbox ... always a pleasant surprise ... something nice to look forward to! It's one of those things that really add to the quality of my life.

Thank you so much for producing and distributing such a fun and informative newsletter.

Keep up the good work!

-- Donald Hamilton

(Thanks, Don! -- Editor)
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Editor's Notes

Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) will introduce Creative Suite 4 in a Sept. 23 Webcast. To view the broadcast, register (http://adobe.istreamplanet.com) your name and email address and pick from among six broadcast times.


Phase One A/S (http://www.phaseone.com) has announced an exclusive strategic alliance with Hartblei to drive medium format photographic lens innovation. The first product of this alliance is the $3,990 Phase One 3.5/45mm TS lens, based on the popular Hartblei 45mm f3.5 Super Rotator tilt-shift lens.


ACD Systems (http://www.acdsee.com) has released ACDSee Pro Photo Manager 2.5 [W], a major update designed to improve digital asset management and workflow, provide greater flexibility for image editing and offer more options for presenting photos. ACDSee Pro 2 users are eligible for a free upgrade to this new version.


O'Reilly has published The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion by Ben Long, a complete class on digital photography, tailored specifically for people who use this camera. It's available via the Imaging Resource Amazon affiliate program at a 34 percent discount (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596520867/?tag=theimagingres-20).


Phanfare (http://www.phanfare.com) has introduced geotagging support within Phanfare. The process is fully automatic and compatible with cameras that support geotagging of images (like the iPhone) and with the Eye-Fi WiFi enabled SD memory cards that geotag images automatically, according to Phanfare CEO Andrew Erlichson.


Lexar Media (http://www.lexarmedia.com/) has announced the Lexar Professional UDMA 300x 16-GB CompactFlash card, a new memory card that provides increased capacity, professional-level performance and reliability.


Sony (http://www.sony.com/darkroom) has launched Digital Darkroom, a photo sharing and learning site. To support the launch, Sony is running a sweepstakes. You are automatically entered to win a $500, $300 or $200 Sony Style gift card when you join the photo group or each time you post a photo to any of the public or assignment galleries. Random drawings will be held in October and November.


Canto (http://www.canto.com) has released Cumulus 7.6 with built-in rendering of PDF files without Acrobat installed and advanced PowerPoint handling and presentation creation without PowerPoint installed, among other features.


Mpix (http://www.mpix.com) has launched Mpix 2.0, a complete redesign and relaunch of the print and product fulfillment service. Mpix 2.0 adds tools for a streamlined ordering workflow and offers additional professional products and services.


Iridient Digital (http://www.iridientdigital.com) has released its $125 Raw Developer 1.8 [M] with highlight recovery and shadow fine-tuning sliders, variable highlight and shadow tint correction controls, alternate white balance estimates based on DNG color matrix values, support for more cameras and more.


Nik Software (http://www.niksoftware.com) has announced its $199.95 Sharpener Pro 3.0 [MW] for Adobe Photoshop and Apple Aperture. The new version adds U Point technology, new creative sharpening tools, soft proofing, output presets and more. Updates are available for $99.95.


Andrey Tverdokhleb (http://www.raw-photo-processor.com) has released his free Raw Photo Processor 3.7.7 [M] featuring four-channel white balance, camera profiles, exposure compensation and more.


Apparent Software (http://www.apparentsoft.com) has released its $39 ImageFramer 2.1 [M] to apply photo-realistic frames to any image. The new release adds beveled mats, shadows for frames and beveled mats (with light source direction) and four linen liner designs.


Lemkesoft (http://www.lemkesoft.com) has released its $34.95 GraphicConverter 6.2 [M] with a Geo menu, GPX display, support for third-party QuickTime extensions, direct conversion of PhotoRaw to 16 bit TIFF, improved search, clone stamp improvements and more.


PhotoShelter CEO Allen Murabayashi has announced the stock photography site will close on Oct. 10. "We knew that sales would be challenging, but we honestly underestimated the complexity of sales," he noted. The Personal Archive (http://pa.photoshelter.com) will continue to give "individual photographers the tools to market and license their images themselves," he said.


John Fox (http://memoryminer.com) has released version 1.86 of MemoryMiner, his $45 cross-platform digital story telling application, with a faster media browser that supports iPhoto events and a Web Export fix for Yahoo Maps.

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One Liners

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Signoff

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:

Daily News: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS.HTM
New on Site: http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM
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Happy snapping!

Mike Pasini, Editor
editor@imaging-resource.com
Dave Etchells, Publisher
web@imaging-resource.com

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