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  • Nokia Lumia 920 PureView-iPhone 5 Nighttime Comparison

    By sirsnapalot | November 29, 2012

    I did a quick test last night of my spanking new Lumia 920 and an iPhone 5- we’re talking 8mp to 8mp comparison here. For those that don’t know, the Lumia 920 sports new technology for a smartphone- the entire camera sensor assembly rests on springs, or shock absorbers. The result is longer exposures in low light situations without the usual blur induced by hand motion.

    The setup for these shots is the following:

    Taken in the dark, save for one 70w CFL lamp
    iPhone5 and Nokia Lumia 920 Pureview taken from the same spot in the Living Room
    Handheld, no bracing myself
    Taken ~11:30pm
    No Flash on either phone
    Lumia- Focusing light used (iPhone 5 does not have this feature)

    That’s it! See the following picture for the setup. I was standing where the red oval is on the floor, and to the left, just out of frame, was a 70w CFL (a 30-70-100w bulb with only the 70w filament working). Otherwise the house was pitch black. The living room is large- almost 25 ft across from where I am standing for this daylight photo.

    Living Room Setup

    I was standing where the red oval is on the floor, and the sole source of illumination was off to the left.

    I took both photos within 30s of each other, iPhone 5 first, then Lumia. (note: I had actually shot the same photo the night before, but had to retract and reshoot it as my finger was blocking the iPhone 5 camera, due to it’s extremely poor position near the corner, and poor low-light performance that meant I couldn’t even see my finger blocking the lens in the viewfinder).

    Nokia Lumia 920 PureView vs iPhone 5

    A comparison of the Nokia Lumia 920 PureView phone vs the iPhone 5 in a dark room. Click on the image for a much larger version.

    The top images are straight from the devices, unaltered except for sizing them down. The aspect ratios are as you see them. So you can see a bare outline of the shapes in the iPhone, and it is a bit clearer in the Lumia (it is much brighter on the phone display due to the fact that the smart image viewer on the device boosts dark images for better viewing).

    The lower photos are what I call “recoverable” photos. I let Photoshop determine the best setting using Alt-Shift-L, which is Auto Levels. So while the iPhone photo has a bit more neutral color balance, the Lumia photo blows away the iPhone in image clarity. Color balance can be easily fixed with a second Photoshop or Lightroom actions.

    Below are both images, adjusted as best I can in Lightroom, which is the king of global image adjustments. I’ve applied selective channel reduction for strong colors, luminance and color noise reductions, and a bit of extra white balance adjust. Removing luminance noise softens the focus, but you can tell from this the Lumia phone is *far* more useful in the end.

    Lumia-iPhone Best Case

    I used Lightroom to remove tint and as much noise as possible to give these “best case” versions. Top shot is iPhone, bottom one is Lumia.

    The end benefits of the Lumia are low noise due to longer exposures. The longer exposures do not result in much motion blur due to the fact that the camera is mechanically stabilized. And the more central location on the device and brighter display on the device mean better composing in low light (and no embarrassing fingers over an ill-positioned lens).

    In most cases, you’ll have a bit more light when you’re choosing to take your photo- I deliberately chose a very dark situation to do a bit of stress testing. I’ll do some more comprehensive testing in the near future- daytime and nighttime, and some more realistic scenarios than this stress test. Much like driving a sports car really fast just to see what it can do, I decided to do my first test in extreme circumstances.

    Disclaimer: I work for Nokia, but take my photography seriously, so this was an honest comparison. You’re welcome to contact me and I’ll send you the source photos for this so you can draw your own conclusions: foto3d@verizon.net

    Topics: Cellphone Cameras | No Comments »

    Upside Down

    By sirsnapalot | August 27, 2012

    Quite frequently, the shot you really want isn’t the most convenient.  I will admit I tend to be lazy in my photography, or at least I wish I was less lazy.  I put the time in to get the shot, frequently, but I don’t always explore the site as much as I should to really get the shot.  That means going for the less obvious angle, and frequently, breaking a sweat or incurring some amount of discomfort and effort than just a simple snapshot.

    Case in point is this image.  From a perspective of effort, it wasn’t that difficult, but it did require being somewhat unconventional.  When I bought my Manfrotto (formerly Bogen) tripod a few years ago, I picked the model I use because it had a reversible neck- I could remove the neck and remount it from underneath.

    For this waterfall shot below, I wanted to get the best shot possible, and that meant including rocks in the water.  The only perspective for that was near the ground.  Since I wanted to blur the water, that meant a long exposure, so handheld was out of the question.  What I did was to make the tripod as short as possible, but that wasn’t enough.  I had to invert the next and install it upside down.  That meant the camera was upside down and nearly touching the ground.

    Horsetail Falls, Oregon

    You can see that the rocks in the foreground add much depth to the shot. Since I wanted a long exposure, I was shooting with the aperture at f22, the smallest I could go on that lens. That gave me a large depth of field, ensuring that both the rocks in the foreground and the rocky cliff in the background were in focus. Even so, I was only able to get 1/3s shutter speed, but that was enough to blur the water into a milky white.

    For this type of shot, you want to set your camera on timer, and for that matter, set it up before carefully (and securely) mounting it on the tripod, as it will be difficult to change the settings so close to the ground and inverted.

    For another ground-level shot, the one below was taken in 2009 in Torres del Paine in Chile. It wasn’t tripod mounted as the exposure was fine for handheld. However, to get the red sorghum-like flowers in the foreground into the shot, I had to lay on my stomach in the grass, trying not to lay in guanaco droppings to do so. It wasn’t the easiest shot to set up, but I did manage to get both a feature-balanced and color-balanced shot, with the bolder red at the bottom serving as an interesting counter-balance to the beautiful granite towers (the “torres”) in the distance.

    Torres del Paine

    Torres del Paine shot- lying on the ground

    Frequently the best compositions take time and thought to make happen- something I should do more of myself.

    Topics: Intermediate, Technique, Tips | No Comments »

    Rainy Days & Mondays…

    By sirsnapalot | June 21, 2012

    …always lift my mood. Well, maybe not Mondays, but rainy days are great for taking certain types of shots. I’ve written about it before, but I cannot stress how in a light rain or just after a rain, how nice it is in the woods.

    I was in Columbus, Ohio last month and it was raining my last day there. I stumbled on this urban oasis in Clintonville, a gentrified upscale area of Columbus just off High Street, north of the university. Rain keeps other people indoors, so if it is light and you aren’t getting too wet, you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself.  The benefit of overcast days is even lighting.  And while overcast skies can be boring in open-space shots that include the sky- in the forest, you rarely ever see the sky, so it’s not an issue.

    The colors are soft and the lighting is even, as shown in this shot highlight the benefits.

    Rainy Woods

    Rainy Woods

    It helped that it was also a still day- not much motion. I actually shot close to 100 photos in 3D.  The woods were so inviting I wanted to hike through them if it weren’t for poison ivy everywhere!

    Saplings are particularly photogenic- their young leaves in the spring are quite accessible being low to the ground.  This maple tree with it’s wet and shiny leaves was a good example:

    Young Maple Tree in the rain

    Young Maple Tree in the rain

    Again, it was shot in 3D, but looks great in 2D.  Next time it rains, get out in the country and find a nature trail.  You’ll be happy with the results- just keep the gear dry and keep the water droplets off the lens!

    Topics: Tips | No Comments »

    It’s the most wonderful time…

    By sirsnapalot | June 8, 2012

    …of the day.  I’ve blogged it before- I love dusk.  Specifically, the half hour past sunset.  Pre-sunset leads to richer colors, and post sunset leads to over-the-top, saturated colors that are other-worldly.

    I was in Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago.  Though it was for work, it is my hometown, and I had not been back since 2007.  Friday evening, I teamed up with an old friend that is also a camera buff (we’ve taken a few great camping trips together in the past, including Alaska in 1994).  We went around Fairfield county in the afternoon and that evening, caught the fading light and downtown Columbus.

    Driving around trying to find a place to park, we inadvertently discovered a pedestrian/bike bridge over the Olentangy River.  Evenings tend to also bring still air, and that led to a glassy river rather well-reflecting the downtown.  The other benefit of post-sunset is the contrast of warm, building lights against the cold blue of the approaching night.

    Columbus, Ohio at Dusk

    I got a lot of other great shots on the trip- at least a couple of others are worth a separate blog post.

    Topics: Tips | No Comments »

    Dirty Pictures

    By sirsnapalot | April 27, 2012

    I titled the post to get your attention to a serious problem- a dirty camera sensor.  I had occasionally seen spots in shots on sunny days with blue skies, but the magnitude of the problem did not become apparent until I decided recently to shoot some flowers against a white background.

    You can see what started me wondering in this shot:

    I wasn’t sure at first where the dirt was coming from.  I cleaned my lens with an air bulb (do not use compressed air as you can get liquid on your lens- only professionals have high-quality air sources) and even puffed air on the exposed sensor under the mirror (very carefully), yet the black spots didn’t go away.  Perplexed and thinking they could be inside the lens, I thought I would search the web to see if I could identify easily the source.  Turns out it was pretty easy, and the following picture is a true picture of the dirt and grime on my camera’s sensor.

    The bigger and blacker particles actually mapped to the ones you see in the picture at the top.  I was so stunned that my sensor was literally this filthy.  In the almost 3.5 years I’ve had my camera, I’ve never cleaned the sensor.  Puffing air into it made no difference.  And taking it to Wolf Camera for their $99 sensor cleaning service did no good either- literally it did not clean a speck off it.  This dirt was stuck to the sensor.

    To get an image like this, put on a longish lens- 50 or 100mm give or take, and set the focus on as close to the camera as possible.  Open up a blank document on your computer.  Put the lens at f22 or close to that (wide apertures will not show this).  Hold the camera close to your computer screen and take a picture of the white background, moving the camera around some.  You want no actual features from your screen to show up- you only want the sensor dirt to be revealed, and it moves with the camera, so is stationary.

    Import your picture to your computer and load it into (preferably) an Adobe product.  Others will work, but basically you should do an auto levels type of operation so that contrast and brightness are automatically adjusted.  That got me the photo above, which crisply detailed the problem, including even a hair that I have never seen in an actual shot (we have cats, so the source is not in question).

    To Wolf’s credit, they did not charge me and recommended I go to a local repair shop, which I did.  I live in Dallas, and if you are in the area, I do recommend you go to Archenal in Richardson at Beltline and Central- he did a terrific job.  Running the same test, you can see that the sensor, though not perfect, is much, much better.

    You can see some spots, and oddly, even that hair/fuzz.  But since I had it cleaned I have only had to clone out a spot one time- they are not visible in most shots.  I can understand why they are left at the top of the sensor- probably the sensor swab did not get all the way to the edge, but nearly always that is cropped out.

    This cost $100, but for $60 Archenal will teach you to do it yourself.  Those lint-free swabs, which are moistened with sensor cleaning liquid?  He said you could use up to 8 cleaning a dirty sensor.

    The bottom line is if you change your lenses frequently (I do), then you will have a dirty sensor.  It is better if you turn off your camera when changing, but you must clean the sensor with the camera on (the shutter needs to be open).  Do NOT try this unless you have gotten instructions on how to do this- you could damage your sensor beyond repair if not done properly and with the proper tools that match your sensor size and will not harm it.  For me, I should count on cleaning my sensor every few months.  Next time, I’m going to take that class so I can do it myself when I start to see a problem in the future.

    Incidentally, this problem is at its worst when you are shooting macro shots.

    Topics: Advanced, Improvement, Macro, Tips | No Comments »

    The 3D Photography Book- Finally in Stores!

    By sirsnapalot | April 5, 2012

    This blog has gotten a bit stale, and I apologize for that. I have been so busy the past year, partly because I wrote my first book!  My publisher is based in Finland, but it was printed in the US, and is available in US, UK and Finland.  It is of course available from nearly everywhere, but there might be extra shipping fees.

    The 144-page book is largely a practical guide to 3D photography.  It looks at equipment, from the simplest camera (even a cellphone) that you might have, to dedicated 3D cameras and more expensive DIY setups.  The book also goes into some detail of how to view your 3D’s, whether it be cross-eyed or anaglyph (red/blue) on your computer screen, viewed on your new 3D HDTV set, or even on a 3D cell phone with a glasses-free 3D display (yes, they exist- HTC and LG make them).

    It then goes into subject areas.  First is what I call the left-brained approach:  I have equipment A, B or C, what kind of 3D’s can I take best with that?  Then I switch to the right-brained approach.  What subjects do you like to shoot?  Nature or  Pets?  Aerial or Macro?  I go into each subject area and detail how to take those shots with various equipment.

    Finally, I go into a lot of detail on how to use StereoPhoto Maker, or SPM.  It’s free, easy, and can work wonders on your 3D raw material, allowing you to fix a myriad of problems and output in just about any format you choose.

    The book contains many 3D images- many examples that cover all the subject matter you can think of.  The book formats is anaglyph (pictured glasses are not included, but I give you details how to easily and cheaply purchase a quality pair) and cross-eyed.  Parallel viewing was left out, but will be included on the book’s corresponding website soon (www.the3dphotographybook.com).

    All in all, it was a fun book to write and I’m fortunate to have been able to write it and get it published.  It is available in Amazon now.  Here is the link to the US store:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Photography-Book-Jeffrey-Cooper/dp/9525668851/

    Now that I’ve published this book, I’ll mix in a bit of 3D into this blog.  I’ve left it out in the past since I have an outlet for my 3D already.  If you’re interested, besides buying the book, why don’t you sign up for my (very active) 3D Forum?

    Topics: 3D, Business, Introduction, Technique, Tips | No Comments »

    Finishing Up My 3D Book

    By sirsnapalot | September 23, 2011

    Sorry for the long silence on this blog- I only have bandwidth for so many projects! This summer I have focused on writing a book and some other activities around 3D photography. These have consumed my free time, so the blog has suffered. I will be back- the book is in draft state, so I will post news about that as well as some more photo tips from my experiences (including new improvements to my macro photography!).

    More soon-

    Topics: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Auto White Balance on a Cell Phone

    By sirsnapalot | May 31, 2011

    Just to follow up on the previous article about “natural light”, when shooting on a cellphone, you will almost always have the phone set to AWB, or Auto, on the White Balance setting, if your phone even has an adjustment for it (iPhone native app does not, for example).  Since I use a Nokia phone to take photos, by default, I have a lot of control over my settings.

    Take this picture of some limes at a local farmer’s market:

    Limes, with Auto White Balance

    Limes, with Auto White Balance

    They look bland, washed out.  Standing right above the limes and looking at them, and then looking at the display, it just wasn’t a satisfying shot.  So, I tapped the White Balance adjust (I use ShutterPro, available in Ovi), and selected Sunny, which is close to natural lighting, which is what your eyes are use to.  The following picture was the result:

    Limes, with White Balance override

    Limes, with White Balance override

    This was far closer to the real look.  Later, I realized the room had fluorescent lights, and I could have also tried the fluorescent setting, but looking at the photo on the display of the N8, right next to the limes themselves, this was very close to the actual color.

    (I love that we have a farmer’s market (Rosemeade Market) just 1/2 mile from our house- lots of fresh and great fruit, much of it local, even if limes come from a bit further away than Dallas.)

    Another thing- when photographing a subject that fills the frame with a single color, any camera, SLR or cellphone, will likely skew the colors since these are not “normal” pictures.  Most cameras calculate white balance based on a scene averaging of colors.  So again, as always, you are better to manually set the white balance to really get the shot you want.

    Topics: Cellphone Cameras, Lighting, Tips | No Comments »

    Shooting in Natural Light

    By sirsnapalot | May 19, 2011

    In the past year I have become a major proponent of shooting as “natural” as possible.  One element of that has been RAW- which captures more of the information in a scene, allowing you to get more out of the picture.  Another is shooting in what I call Natural Light.

    Back in the days of film, this was not something you had to worry about, at least with negatives or slides.  Film was set for a particular color temperature, and nearly all mainstream film was set for outdoors, daylight.  This equates, give or take, to 5100K (Kelvins- the temperature of the light), which is approximately midday, or the brightest, sun.

    What you had to worry about in the past (and there was not much you could do about it) was a film lab automatically correcting your pictures so that color cast was taken out.  Most people don’t notice this, but if you just sent your film to a typical mass production lab, the colors of dusk would be “normalized” to midday lighting, and that warm sunset or cooler-looking dusk colors would be missing.  If you went to a private lab, usually you had a knowledgeable person that knew the context of the picture and would dial-back the automatic correction.

    In digital cameras, you have Automatic White Balance, or AWB.  This is always on be default, and always, IMHO, ruins the lighting in the evening or with a sunset.  Maybe it is good if you are indoors shooting in artificial light, but I always prefer turning it off outdoors.

    Take the following shot of a bullfrog I took a few days ago:

    Bullfrog, in natural light

    Bullfrog, in natural light

    I just love this picture, as-is.  (Well,l it might be nice if the foreground branch wasn’t there, but that wasn’t a choice I had).  The picture neatly captures the frog’s colorful eyes, and the reflection of its underbelly.  Also, it captures the mood.  It was dusk, the sun was diving below the horizon, and this was a shaded, scummy pond in a nearby nature preserve.  By comparison, here is the shot with AWB turned on:

    Bullfrog, in

    While this picture does show the frog’s true colors as we perceive it, the mood has been stripped away from it- this could just be taken at any time during the day.  The picture is fine, I just prefer the more natural version, shot at 5100k, or approximately normal, unaltered colors.  For reference, the second picture has been “corrected” to 7500k.

    To set your camera depends on what model you have.  Nearly all digital cameras have some sort of manual override (at least true cameras do, byt not necessarily all cell phones).  In cheaper cameras, you can simply set the “Scene” to Sunny, which pretty much means midday.  By doing this, you can easily override the corrections.  On a DLSR, you usually will be able to precisely set the white balance, which is also called Color Temperature, and is measured in Kelvins, the unit of absolute temperature measurement.  I set mine to 5100k, though any setting in the low 5000’s will give similar results.  I’ve seen advice to set it at 5500k, too.  It’s not an exact science, since it is all based on human perception anyways.

    If you have a cellphone, check your settings.  If you have scene modes, then you are in luck- you can set that to Sunny, as I did with my Nokia N8 when I shot the following scene in Finland last month:

    Finland Dusk, by natural light

    Finland Dusk, by natural light

    This was taken out the window of a friend’s home.  It really was a murky and wonderful blue (the sun had set and that is the moon rising).  I simply set the cellphone’s camera to Sunny and fired off the shot.  It may look unrealistically blue, but you have to remember one thing about looking at photographs.  You are looking at it on a computer display, and by comparison to the surroundings, it is definitely blue.  But when you are immersed in the scene, your brain adapts a bit and does it’s own AWB of a sort.  Ever wear yellowish-tinted sunglasses?  After a while, your brain filters out some of that.

    So, you might ask, if the brain does an AWB, why not let the camera do it, too?  Well, the brain never quite does a full AWB.  If you want, you can always tone down the natural light a bit by splitting the different (especially easy if you shoot in RAW).  I prefer to let the natural light show through.  The mood at the time really was like it is shown in this picture- very peaceful and very pleasing to just sit and stare at.

    Topics: Advanced, Improvement, Lighting, Tips | No Comments »

    Time Exposed

    By sirsnapalot | March 14, 2011

    I’ve been wanting to try this type of shot for a long, long time.  No, not waterfalls (those are great, too), but of the ocean.  Last few weeks I was in California for the Cinequest Film Festival (for work- I work for Nokia) and was able to get away for a day through the Redwoods and to the Coast with my wife.  While driving down the coast, my wife spotted on the map a place called Natural Bridge Beach and asked about it.  Since it was so close to the road, we drove in.  Was I in love with the place from then on.

    We stayed for about an hour and I took a lot of photos.  But, as it got somewhat darker, I realized I could take some time exposures of it (I had my tripod).  I was able to get a maximum exposure of 8 seconds as it was not dark yet and we couldn’t stick around forever.  So I put the lens on f29, which gave me 2-3s.  I then added a polarizer to darken it even more- 4-5 seconds now.  Finally, just to get more blur in the water, I decided on purpose to overexpose the image- voila, 8s!  Since I shoot only RAW now, I had 14-bits per color channel per pixel (total 42 bits) instead of 8 per channel (total 24 bits).  The is a phenomenal amount of exposure latitude and another reason why I will only use RAW from now on- I got the shot because I used RAW to get the longest possible exposure.  The result?

    Natural Bridge

    Natural Bridge

    The only think that would make me happier with the shot is if I used a neutral density to get an even longer exposure, but I’m quite happy with this one.   So the article is on time exposure, first, as long exposures with clouds, water, etc… can make for a surreal scene.  RAW is now a tool along the way and I wanted to reinforce that.

    Next thing to buy is an ND filter.  Alas, sadly, I had a very good one last year from Singh Ray.  But it was a variable one (not a bad thing) and very, very heavy.  I was taking  waterfall picture in Yosemite from a bridge and the circular threads did not engage properly, and it fell off into a raging river.  That was an expensive lost.  Next one I’ll live with a bit cheaper and a square slider filter so I don’t have that risk.  Cheaper ones can color cast towards magenta, but then again- I shoot in RAW, so it is easier to fix later 🙂

    Topics: Creative, Technique, Time Exposure | No Comments »

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