Camera ISO Settings

The Truth About ISO

Back in the days of ‘wet photography’, we had rolls and sheets of film that carried various ISO/ASA/DIN numbers.

ISO stands for International Standards Organisation

ASA stands for American Standards Association

DIN – well, that’s ‘Deutsches Institut für Normung’ or German Institute for Standardisation

ISO and ASA were basically identical values, and DIN = (log10)ISO x10 +1, so ASA/ISO 100 equated to DIN 21….nope, I’m not going to say anything!

These numbers were the film ‘speed’ values.  Film speed was critical to exposure metering as it specified the film sensitivity to light.  Metering a scene properly at the correct ISO/ASA/DIN gave us an overall exposure value that ensured the film got the correct ‘dose’ of light from the shutter speed and aperture combination.

Low ISO/ASA/DIN values meant the film was LESS sensitive to light (SLOW FILM) and high values meant MORE sensitivity to light (FAST FILM).

Ilford Pan F was a very slow mono negative film at ASA 50, while Ilford HP5 was a fast 400 ASA mono negative film.

The other characteristic of film speed was ‘grain’.  Correctly exposed, Pan F was extremely fine grained, whereas correctly exposed HP5 was ‘visibly grainy’ on an 8×10 print.

Another Ilford mono negative film I used a lot was FP4.  The stated ASA for this film was 125ASA/ISO, but I always rated it (set the meter ASA speed dial) to 100ASA on my 35mm Canon A1 and F1 (yup, you read that right!) because they both slightly over-metered most scenes.

If we needed to shoot at 1/1000th and f8 but 100ASA only gave us 1/250th at f8 we would switch to 400ASA film – two stops greater sensitivity to light means we can take a shutter speed two stops shorter for the same aperture and thus get our required 1/1000th sec.

But, what if we were already set up with 400ASA film, but the meter (set at 400ASA) was only giving us 1/250th?

Prior to the release of films like Delta 1600/3200 we would put a fresh roll of 400ASA film in the camera and set the meter to a whopping 1600ASA! We would deliberately UNDER EXPOSE Ilford HP5 or Kodak Tri-X by 2 stops to give us our required 1/1000th at f8.

The two stops underexposed film would then be ‘push processed’, which basically meant it was given a longer time in the developer.  This ‘push processing’ always gave us a grainy image, because of the manner in which photographic chemistry worked.

And just to confuse you even more, very occasionally a situation might arise where we would over expose film and ‘pull process’ it – but that’s another story.

We are not here for a history lesson, but the point you need to understand is this – we had a camera body into which we inserted various sensitivities of film, and that sometimes those sensitivities were chemically manipulated in processing.

That Was Then, This Is Now!

ISO/ASA/DIN was SENSITIVITY of FILM.

It is NOT SENSITIVITY of your DSLR SENSOR….!!! Understand that once and for all!

The sensitivity of your sensor IS FIXED.

It is set in Silicon when the sensor is manufactured.  Just like the sensitivity of Kodak Tri-X Pan was ‘fixed’ at 400ASA/ISO when it was made at the factory.

How is the sensitivity of a digital sensor fixed?  By the SIZE of the individual PHOTOSITES on the sensor.

Larger photosites will gather more photons from a given exposure than small ones – it’s that simple.

The greater the number of photons captured means that the output signal from a larger photosite is GREATER than the output signal from a smaller photosite for the same exposure value (EV being a combination shutter speed and aperture/f number).

All sensors have a base level of noise – we can refer to this as the sensor ‘noise floor’.

This noise floor is an amalgamation of the noise floors of each photosite on the sensor.

But the noise floor of each photosite on the sensor is masked/obscured by the photosite signal output; therefore the greater the signal, the larger the signal to noise (S/N) ratio is said to be.

In general, larger photosites yield a higher S/N ratio than smaller ones given the same exposure.

This is why the Nikon D3 had such success being full frame but just over 12 megapixels, and it’s the reason that some of us don’t get overly excited about seeing more megapixels being crammed into our 36mm x 24mm sensors.

Anyway, the total output from a photosite contains both signal and noise floor, and the signal component can be thought of as ‘gain’ over the noise floor – natural gain.

As manufacturers put more megapixels on our sensors this natural gain DECREASES because the photosites get SMALLER – they have to in order to fit more of them into the finite sensor area.

Natural gain CAN be brought back in certain sensor designs by manipulating the design of the micro lenses that sit on top of the individual photosites. Re-design of these micro lenses to ‘suck in’ more tangential photons – rather like putting a funnel in a bottle to make filling it easier and more efficient.

There is a brilliantly simple illustration of how a sensor fits into the general scheme of things, courtesy of digital camera world:

%name Camera ISO Settings

The main item of note in this image is perhaps not quite so obvious, but it’s the boundary between the analogue and digital parts of the system.

We have 3 component arrays forward of this boundary:

  1. Mosaic Filter including Micro Lenses & Moire filter if fitted.
  2. Sensor Array of Photosites – these suck in photons and release proportional electrons/charge.
  3. Analogue Electronics – this holds the charge record of the photosite output.

Everything forward of the Analogue/Digital Converter – ADC – is just that, analogue! And the variety of attributes that a manufacturer puts on the sensor forward of this boundary can be thought of mostly as modifying/enhancing natural gain.

So What About My ISO Control Settings Andy?

All sensors have a BASE ISO. In other words they have an ISO sensitivity/speed rating just like film!  And as I said before THIS IS A FIXED VALUE.

The base ISO of a sensor photosite array can be defined as that ISO setting that yields the best dynamic range across the whole array, and it is the ISO setting that carries NO internal amplification.

Your chosen ISO setting has absolutely ZERO effect on what happens forward of the Analogue/Digital boundary – NONE.

So, all those idiots who tell you that ISO effects/governs exposure are WRONG – it has nothing to do with it for the simple reason that ISO effecting sensor sensitivity is a total misconception….end of!

Now I’ll bet that’s going to set off a whole raft of negative comments and arguments – and they will all be wrong, because they don’t know what they’re talking about!

The ‘digital side’ of the boundary is where all the ‘voodoo’ happens, and it’s where your ISO settings come into play.

At the end of an exposure the Analogue Digital Converter, or ADC, comes along and makes a ‘count’ of the contents of the ‘analogue electronics’ mosaic (as Digital Camera World like to call it – nice and unambiguous!).

Remember, it’s counting/measuring TOTAL OUTPUT from each photosite – and that comprises both signal and noise floor outputs.

iso1 900x900 Camera ISO Settings

If the exposure has been carried out at ‘base ISO’ then we have the maximum S/N ratio, as in column 1.

However, if we increase our ISO setting above ‘base’ then the total sensor array output looks like column 2.  We have in effect UNDER EXPOSED the shot, resulting in a reduced signal.  But we have the same value for the noise floor, so we have a lower S/N ratio.

In principal, the ADC cannot discriminate between noise floor and signal outputs, and so all it sees in one output value for each photosite.

At base ISO this isn’t a problem, but once we begin to shoot at ISO settings above base, under exposing in other words, the cameras internal image processors apply gain to boost the output values handed to it by the ADC.

Yes, this boosts the signal output, but it also amplifies the noise floor component of the signal at the same time – hence that perennial problem we all like to call ‘high ISO noise’.

So your ISO control behaves in exactly the same way as the ‘gain switch’ on a CB or long wave radio, or indeed the db gain on a microphone – ISO is just applied gain.

Things You Should Know

My first digital camera had a CCD (charge coupled device) sensor, it was made by Fuji and it cost a bloody fortune.

Cameras today for the most part use CMOS (complimentary metal oxide semi-conductor) sensors.

  • CCD sensors create high-quality, low-noise images.
  • CMOS sensors, traditionally, are more susceptible to noise.
  • Because each photosite on a CMOS sensor has a series of transistors located next to it, the light sensitivity of a CMOS chip tends to be lower. Many of the photons striking the sensory photosite array hit the transistors instead of the photosites.  This is where the newer micro lens designs come in handy.
  • A CMOS sensor consumes less power. CCD sensors can consume up to 100 times more power than an equivalent CMOS sensor.
  • CMOS chips can be produced easily, making them cheaper to manufacture than CCD sensors.

Basic CMOS tech has changed very little over the years – by that I’m referring to the actual ‘sensing’ bit of the sensor.  Yes, the individual photosites are now manufactured with more precision and consistency, but the basic methodology is pretty much ‘same as it ever was’.

But what HAS changed are the bits they stick in front of it – most notably micro-lens design; and the stuff that goes behind it, the ADC and image processors (IPs).

The ADC used to be 12 bit, now they are 14 bit on most digital cameras, and even 16 bit on some.  Increasing the bit depth accuracy in the ADC means it can detect smaller variations in output signal values between adjacent photosites.

As long as the ‘bits’ that come after the ADC can handle these extended values then the result can extend the cameras dynamic range.

But the ADC and IPs are firmware based in their operation, and so when you turn your ISO above base you are relying on a set of algorithms to handle the business of compensating for your under exposure.

All this takes place AFTER the shutter has closed – so again, ISO settings have less than nothing to do with the exposure of the image; said exposure has been made and finished with before any ISO applied gain occurs.

For a camera to be revolutionary in terms of high ISO image quality it must deliver a lower noise floor than its predecessor whilst maintaining or bettering its predecessors low ISO performance in terms of noise and dynamic range.

This where Nikon have screwed their own pooch with the D5. At ISOs below 3200 it has poorer IQ and narrower dynamic range than either the D4 or 4S.  Perhaps some of this problem could be due to the sensor photosite pitch (diameter) of 6.45 microns compared to the D4/4S of 7.30 microns – but I think it’s mostly due to poor ADC and S/N firmware; which of course can be corrected in the future.

Can I Get More Photons Onto My Sensor Andy?

You can get more photons onto your sensor by changing to a lens that lets in more light.

You might now by thinking that I mean switching glass based on a lower f-number or f-stop.

If so you’re half right.  I’m actually talking about t-stops.

The f-number of a lens is basically an expression of the relationship between maximum aperture diameter and focal length, and is an indication of the amount of light the lens lets in.

T-stops are slightly different. They are a direct indicator of how much light is transmitted by the lens – in other words how much light is actually being allowed to leave the rear element.

We could have two lenses of identical focal length and f-number, but one contains 17 lens elements and the other only 13. Assuming the glass and any coatings are of equal quality then the lens with fewer elements will have a higher transmission value and therefore lower T-number.

As an example, the Canon 85mm f1.2 actually has a t-number of 1.4, and so it’s letting in pretty much HALF a stop less light than you might think it is.

In Conclusion

I’ve deliberately not embellished this post with lots of images taken at high ISO – I’ve posted and published enough of those in the past.

I’ve given you this information so that you can digest it and hopefully understand more about how your camera works and what’s going on.  Only by understanding how something works can you deploy or use it to your best advantage.

I regularly take, market and sell images taken at ISO speeds that a lot of folk wouldn’t go anywhere near – even when they are using the same camera as me.

The sole reason I opt for high ISO settings is to obtain very fast shutter speeds with big glass in order to freeze action, especially of subjects close to the camera.  You can freeze very little action with a 500mm lens using speeds in the hundredths of a second.

Picture buyers love frozen high speed action and they don’t mind some noise if the shot is a bit special. Noise doesn’t look anywhere near as severe in a print as it does on your monitor either, so high ISO values are nothing to shy away from – especially if to do so would be at the expense of the ‘shot of a lifetime’.

Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to do a short Nikon D5 Autofocus test, courtesy of Paul Atkins.

D4D6793 900x599 Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

Using Paul’s newly acquired D5, his Nikon 400mm f2.8 lens and his two crackpot Golden retrievers ‘Enzo’ and ‘Raffa’, his large lawn and a couple of tennis balls, I gave the camera some hard work to do.

Bearing in mind that attentiveness, obedience and eagerness to please, are not traits that figure greatly in either dogs mental make-up; I was pleasantly surprised as to how instructive the exercise was – well done puppies!

On a good run at the camera the dogs cover something like 28 metres in 5 seconds, starting out at around 31 metres away and ending just outside the focus limiter at around 3 metres.

The camera was set to my MANUAL EXPOSURE + AUTO ISO, 1/4000th and f6.3.

I should also stress that there was NO AF FINE TUNE set for these shots.

That silliness has been taken to a whole new level of craziness now – sweet Jesus it makes me so angry!

I set the AF up very much how I’d set a Canon 1DX or 1DXMk2, and then went through the majority of the AF modes.

Dynamic 9, 25 and 72, group, 3D and ‘AUTO’ – and I was totally horrified at which mode gave the best results, and I mean BEST by a country mile!

In this video I go through the full resolution sequence of 27 shots individually so you can see how the Nikon D5 autofocus performs as the two dogs get closer to the camera with every frame.  The images have only Lightroom default sharpening applied and have had nothing done to them except my standard contrast-lowering adjustments.

Don’t be silly – click the YouTube link in the bottom of the above frame and watch it at full resolution on my channel!

Please don’t take this as a definitive test of the Nikon D5 autofocus – I certainly don’t, and neither am I prepared to draw much of a conclusion from it.  But it works!

I know I’m not alone in finding the Auto focus mode to be ‘better’ in terms of consistent focus, but to my mind this should NOT be the case, especially on such a target moving in such close proximity to a long telephoto – even if it is an f2.8.

At this point I’m not going to bother showing the sequences from the other modes, just take my word for it that I was shocked at the distinctly poorer performance using the other modes I tried – except for GROUP, which has never worked well in this sort of situation.

A couple of things to note:

  1. I used the same settings at 12fps and the consistency level dropped by around 45%, so no change in that old chestnut.  The Canon 1DX suffered from it too, but with the limited testing I’ve done on the 1DXMk2, Canons idea of crafting and honing the existing AF system, as opposed to Nikons ‘chucking the baby out with the bath water’, seems to have solved the problem to a greater degree.
  2. The D5 raw files seem to have lost a little tractability in ‘lifting the blacks/shadows/exposure’ – something that I’ve always held typical .NEF files in high esteem for.  This I found quite surprising seeing as the camera was heralded as the ‘Prince of Darkness’.   It’s also the one thing above all else that I despise in Canon 1DX raw files.  But Canon have upped their game considerably on this front with the 1DXMk2.

Seriously folks, it’s like some sort of demented see-saw or merry-go-round with these manufacturers…

The new Canon is coming to Norway with me in a couple of weeks, and Mr. Paul is bringing his D5, so there will be quite a bit of performance testing going on throughout September and October.

Hope these shots peek your interest folks!

 

More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Nikon D5 banner 577x400 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Okay, so the Nikon D5 has started to slowly trickle into the hands of people now (though sadly not those belonging to yours truly) and yesterday I was sent a link to some downloadable D5 RAW files.

That link is HERE for those of you that might want a look for yourself.

If you have received this post via email PLEASE view it on the blog itself.

Also, as a matter of interest, Nikon have made the D5 User Manual available HERE.

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m quite excited at the thought of the new AF system giving the Nikon shooter access to more Canon-esque controls, but image quality in terms of sensor output and the recorded .NEF are always paramount in my mind.

So I jumped all over the above-linked RAW files, but I have to say that looking at them in Lightroom (neutralised of course as per my previous post HERE) I’m not as overly enamoured as I thought I was going to be.

I’ve seen this camera called ‘The New Lord of Darkness’ with much play being made of its high ISO capability, so let’s have a look at that shall we.  ISO range is 100 to 102,000 expandable to 50 and 3,276,800 – ISO stupid and then some!

Before we go any further, I suspect that the downloadable files are Lossless Compressed!

Want to see what 3,276,800ISO looks like?

All shots are by a user named Andy (not me) posted on NikonGear.net – thanks go to him for sharing.

D5D 1182 2 600x400 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

ISO 3,286,800 – Image is NOT full resolution as it’s too big for WordPress!

D5D 1182 3 600x400 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

ISO 3,286,800 or H5 – full resolution crop – CLICK to view at full size.

This image is, honestly, unusable SO WHY charge you the buyer for the ability to produce it??

Let’s have a look at the high native ISO 102,400:

D5D 1177 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Nikon D5 highest native 102,400 ISO – click for full rez view.

Okay, so in certain circumstances this image would be useful for press reproduction, and I can see the appeal for photojournalists – this level of performance will earn them money, and lots of it.

But I suspect that 75%+ of all global D5 purchasers in its first 12 months will NOT benefit from this performance because they are not in that market place. If you produce weddings shots that look like this then you’re going to get sued up the Ying Yang for sure.

What is interesting is a link on Nikon Rumours which was kindly sent to me yesterday by Paul Atkins:

D4vD5 DR 900x364 More Thoughts on the Nikon D5

Photographic Dynamic Range comparison of Nikon D4 and Nikon D5.

This is a ‘live graph’ which you can access directly via this link HERE

This is a comparison of PDR, not EDR, and you will not find the D5 listed at DXO Mark at this moment in time. If you want to get your head around the difference between PDR and EDR then click HERE or HERE. But be warned, MATHS ALERT!

Below 1600 ISO the D5 has a significantly lower PDR than the D4, putting it very much in line with the Canon 1DX at <1600ISO – see HERE.

To my mind the D5 is an all-action camera with good low light capabilities; as is/was the D3 in its time, D4 and D4s and Canons 1DX.

As such, lower ISO performance is not really important – it’s a question of ‘horses for courses’ and the right tool for the job.  But the fact that the PDR is lower came as a surprise.

Time was, not so long ago, that I was ‘capped’ at sub 800 ISO for wildlife/action photography – the D3 put paid to that and 1200 to 1600 ISO became my working values when needed.

The D4 and Canon 1DX shifted the goal posts again – 3200 ISO became a standard AND both cameras had AutoISO that worked perfectly.

Nobody with a working brain chooses to work at high ISOs unless they are driven to do so by a need for high shutter speeds in low light – no matter how well a camera sensor functions, image quality will always increase with decreasing ISO.

So examination of the above PDR curves clearly indicate that the true advantage of the D5 over the D4 is on average around 1.3 stops above 1600 ISO – which is a good thing, but it’s not exactly what I’d call revolutionary.  We experience pretty much the same increase with every Nikon D FX release.

If PDR increases then the Signal to Noise ratio – S/N – pretty much appears to increase by the same value, so a visual comparison of D4 and D5 images shot at higher than 1600 ISO will show around 1.3Ev to 1.5Ev of reduced ISO noise.

What I do like is the IQ improvements at 8000 ISO and above.  8000 ISO on a D4 is bad, and its top native 12800 ISO is awful.  Based on the downloaded raw files, anyone could process a D5 12800 ISO image at full resolution to pass QC at ANY stock agency – just go and download those RAWS on the link at the top of the post and see for yourself.

25,600 ISO – well I might be tempted to down-res those by perhaps 1000 to 1500 pixels on the long edge to help with noise reduction a bit, and chucked onto A3 or A3+ print you would never really notice the noise.

Do I like what I see – yes I do!

Is the D5 the new ‘Lord of Darkness’ – no it bloomin’ well isn’t!  Lord of Low Light – quite possibly.  The ISO H1 to H5 images go from questionable to crap in my opinion.

Like the Canon 1DX, I’m not impressed at lower ISO values than 1600 – I can get the same or better performance with a D4 or 4S – admittedly though with a lower pixel count.

So overall Andy, does the D5 impress?  Well, still being in a hands-off situation I’m not going to commit to a full answer there.  When all is said and done, the AF performance will be the key issue for me – a high DR/low noise image of an out of focus subject in no use to me – or anyone else for that matter!

The Way I See Things As They Stand At This Very Moment.

The KING of low ISO with high resolution DSLRs is the Nikon D800E – but it’s not without its limitations. And before you start screaming 5DS at me – it’s a nail, go away..

The best all-round VFM DSLR is the Nikon D810 – a proper jack of all trades who’s only weakness is the occasionally questionable Nikon AF.

The best DSLR autofocus for action is without doubt the Canon 1DX – fabulous AF, crap ergonomics, crap sensor.

The best DSLR sensor for action is the Nikon D4 or 4S – great ergonomics, great sensor, sometimes dubious AF.

But, going on the raw files I’ve downloaded, I strongly suspect that the D5 is going to have the best action sensor title stitched up and dethrone the D4/4S.

Will it dethrone the Canon 1DX in the action AF department – no idea is my truthful answer.  I suppose anything is possible, but if it did, would the soon-to-be-released 1DXMk2 take the throne back – quite possibly.

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Raw File Compression

Raw File Compression.

Today I’m going to give you my point of view over that most vexatious question – is LOSSLESS raw file compression TRULY lossless?

I’m going to upset one heck of a lot of people here, and my chances of Canon letting me have any new kit to test are going to disappear over the horizon at a great rate of knots, but I feel compelled to post!

What prompts me to commit this act of potential suicide?

It’s this shot from my recent trip to Norway:

FW1Q1351 2 900x600 Raw File Compression

Direct from Camera

FW1Q1351 900x600 Raw File Compression

Processed in Lightroom

I had originally intended to shoot Nikon on this trip using a hire 400mm f2.8, but right at the last minute there was a problem with the lens that couldn’t be sorted out in time, so Calumet supplied me with a 1DX and a 200-400 f4 to basically get me out of a sticky situation.

As you should all know by now, the only problems I have with Canon cameras are their  short Dynamic Range, and Canons steadfast refusal to allow for uncompressed raw recording.

The less experienced shooter/processor might look at the shot “ex camera” and be disappointed – it looks like crap, with far too much contrast, overly dark shadows and near-blown highlights.

Shot on Nikon the same image would look more in keeping with the processed version IF SHOT using the uncompressed raw option, which is something I always do without fail; and the extra 3/4 stop dynamic range of the D4 would make a world of difference too.

Would the AF have done as good a job – who knows!

The lighting in the shot is epic from a visual PoV, but bad from a camera exposure one. A wider dynamic range and zero raw compression on my Nikon D4 would allow me to have a little more ‘cavalier attitude’ to lighting scenarios like this – usually I’d shoot with +2/3Ev permanently dialled into the camera.  Overall the extra dynamic range would give me less contrast, and I’d have more highlight detail and less need to bump up the shadow areas in post.

In other words processing would be easier, faster and a lot less convoluted.

But I can’t stress enough just how much detrimental difference LOSSLESS raw file compression CAN SOMETIMES make to a shot.

Now there is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of opinionated garbage written all over the internet on various forums etc about lossless raw file compression, and it drives me nuts.  Some say it’s bad, most say it makes no difference – and both camps are WRONG!

Sometimes there is NO visual difference between UNCOMPRESSED and LOSSLESS, and sometimes there IS.  It all depends on the lighting and the nature of the scene/subject colours and how they interact with said lighting.

The main problem with the ‘it makes no difference’ camp is that they never substantiate their claims; and if they are Canon shooters they can’t – because they can’t produce an image with zero raw file compression to compare their standard lossless CR2 files to!

So I’ve come up with a way of illustrating visually the differences between various levels of raw file compression on Nikon using the D800E and Photoshop.

But before we ‘get to it’ let’s firstly refresh your understanding. A camera raw file is basically a gamma 1.0, or LINEAR gamma file:

LinVsHum3 900x271 Raw File Compression

Linear (top) vs Encoded Gamma

The right hand 50% of the linear gamma gradient represents the brightest whole stop of exposure – that’s one heck of a lot of potential for recording subtle highlight detail in a raw file.

It also represents the area of tonal range that is frequently most effected by any form of raw file compression.

Neither Nikon or Canon will reveal to the world the algorithm-based methods they use for lossless or lossy raw file compression, but it usually works by a process of ‘Bayer Binning’.

Bayer Pattern Raw File Compression

If we take a 2×2 block, it contains 2 green, 1 red and 1 blue photosite photon value – if we average the green value and then interpolate new values for red and blue output we will successfully compress the raw file.  But the data will be ‘faux’ data, not real data.

The other method we could use is to compress the tonal values in that brightest stop of recorded highlight tone – which is massive don’t forget – but this will result in a ’rounding up or down’ of certain bright tonal values thus potentially reducing some of the more subtle highlight details.

We could also use some variant of the same type of algorithm to ‘rationalise’ shadow detail as well – with pretty much the same result.

In the face of Nikon and Canons refusal to divulge their methodologies behind raw file compression, especially lossless, we can only guess what is actually happening.

I read somewhere that with lossless raw file compression the compression algorithms leave a trace instruction about what they have done and where they’ve done it in order that a raw handler programme such as Lightroom can actually ‘undo’ the compression effects – that sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me!

Personally I neither know nor do I care – I know that lossless raw file compression CAN be detrimental to images shot under certain conditions, and here’s the proof – of a fashion:

Let’s look at the following files:

14bitUC1 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 1: 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED

14bitUC2 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 2: 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED

14bitLosslessC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 3: 14 bit LOSSLESS compression

14bitLossyC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 4: 14 bit LOSSY compression

12bitUC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 5: 12 bit UNCOMPRESSED

Yes, there are 2 files which are identical, that is 14 bit uncompressed – and there’s a reason for that which will become apparent in a minute.

First, some basic Photoshop ‘stuff’.  If I open TWO images in Photoshop as separate layers in the same document, and change the blend mode of the top layer to DIFFERENCE I can then see the differences between the two ‘images’.  It’s not a perfect way of proving my point because of the phenomenon of photon flux.

Photon Flux Andy??? WTF is that?

Well, here’s where shooting two identical 14 bit uncompressed files comes in – they themselves are NOT identical!:

controlunamplified 258x400 Raw File Compression control 258x400 Raw File Compression

The result of overlaying the two identical uncompressed raw files (above left) – it looks almost black all over indicating that the two shots are indeed pretty much the same in every pixel.  But if I amplify the image with a levels layer (above right) you can see the differences more clearly.

So there you have it – Photon Flux! The difference between two 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED raw files shot at the same time, same ISO, shutter speed AND with a FULLY MANUAL APERTURE.  The only difference between the two shots is the ratio and number of photons striking the subject and being reflected into the lens.

The Levels Adjustment Layer had values of 0, 50 and 150, and is going to be added to the following comparison images:

Firstly 14 Bit UNCOMPRESSED compared to 14 bit LOSSLESS (the important one!):

14bitUCvLosslessC 258x400 Raw File Compression

14 bit UNCOMPRESSED vs 14 bit LOSSLESS

Please remember, the above ‘difference’ image contains photon flux variations too, but if you look carefully you will see greater differences than in the ‘flux only’ image above.

14bitUCvLossyC 258x400 Raw File Compression 14bitUCv12bitUC 258x400 Raw File Compression

The two images above illustrate the differences between 14 bit uncompressed and 14 bit LOSSY compression (left) and 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED and 12 bit UNCOMPRESSED (right) just for good measure!

In Conclusion

As I indicated earlier in the post, this is not a definitive testing method, sequential shots will always contain a photon flux variation that ‘pollutes’ the ‘difference’ image.

I purposefully chose this white subject with textured aluminium fittings and a blackish LED screen because the majority of sensor response will lie in that brightest gamma 1.0 stop.

The exposure was a constant +1EV, 1/30th @ f 18 and 100 ISO – nearly maximum dynamic range for the D800E, and f18 was set manually to avoid any aperture flicker caused by auto stop down.

You can see from all the ‘difference’ images that the part of the subject that seems to suffer the most is the aluminium part, not the white areas.  The aluminium has a stippled texture causing a myriad of small specular highlights – brighter than the white parts of the subject.

What would 14 bit uncompressed minus 14 bit lossless minus photon flux look like?  In a perfect world I’d be able to show you accurately, but we don’t live in one of those so I can’t!

We can try it using the flux shot from earlier:

losslessminuscontrol 258x400 Raw File Compression

But this is wildly inaccurate as the flux component is not pertinent to the photons at the actual time the lossless compression shot was taken.  But the fact that you CAN see an image does HINT that there is a real difference between UNCOMPRESSED and LOSSLESS compression – in certain circumstances at least.

If you have never used a camera that offers the zero raw file compression option then basically what you’ve never had you never miss.  But as a Nikon shooter I shoot uncompressed all the time – 90% of the time I don’t need to, but it just saves me having to remember something when I do need the option.

FW1Q4469 600x400 Raw File Compression

Would this 1DX shot be served any better through UNCOMPRESSED raw recording?  Most likely NO – why?  Low Dynamic Range caused in the main by flat low contrast lighting means no deep dark shadows and nothing approaching a highlight.

I don’t see it as a costly option in terms of buffer capacity or on-board storage, and when it comes to processing I would much rather have a surfeit of sensor data rather than a lack of it – no matter how small that deficit might be.

Lossless raw file compression has NO positive effect on your images, and it’s sole purpose in life is to allow you to fit more shots on the storage media – that’s it pure and simple.  If you have the option to shoot uncompressed then do so, and buy a bigger card!

What pisses my off about Canon is that it would only take, I’m sure, a firmware upgrade to give the 1DX et al the ability to record with zero raw file compression – and, whether needed or not, it would stop miserable grumpy gits like me banging on about it!

 

Canon 1DX MkII

Canon 1DX MkII versus Nikon D5?

350x350 1 Canon 1DX MkII

Holy Smokes – I’m getting inundated with questions since yesterdays launch announcement regarding the Canon 1DX MkII.

Everything is hypothetical at the moment because I’m not expecting to see a D5 until mid-March, and the 1DX Mk II around mid-April to May.

Trying to compare, or do an ‘X versus Y’ is really something of a pointless excercise, even if the two bodies were ‘on the shelf’ right now, and I say this because:

  1. Most potential purchasers of either body are already heavily invested in one system or the other.
  2. A direct comparison is only of real use to someone who isn’t heavily invested in glass from one system or the other – in which case you shouldn’t be looking at either camera body because both of them will chew you up and spit you out in bubbles.

Remember, a good camera is only as good as the glass that feeds it AND the twat that’s doing the driving!

But the perenial Canon v Nikon question will always be there like the elephant in the room, so here are the general specs for the two camera bodies:

Sensor Format

Canon 1DX MkII: Full frame
Nikon D5: Full frame

Megapixels

Canon 1DX MkII: 21.5 megapixels (20.2MP effective)
Nikon D5: 21.33 megapixels (20.8MP effective)

Max Resolution

Canon 1DX MkII: 5472 x 3648
Nikon D5: 5568 x 3712

Aspect Ratios

Canon 1DX MkII: 3:2
Nikon D5: 3:2 and 4:5

File Formats

Canon 1DX MkII: JPEG, RAW for stills. MJPEG, MOV, MP4, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for video.
Nikon D5: JPEG, RAW, TIFF for stills. MOV, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for video.

Bit Depth

Canon 1DX MkII: 14-bit
Nikon D5: 14-bit

Memory Card

Canon 1DX MkII: 1 CFast and 1 CompactFlash
Nikon D5: 2 XQD or 2 CompactFlash

Autofocus Points

Canon 1DX MkII: 61 phase detection points, with 41 cross-type
Nikon D5: 153 phase detection points, with 99 cross-type

Viewfinder

Canon 1DX MkII: 100% coverage and ~0.76x magnification
Nikon D5: 100% coverage and ~0.72x magnification

Rear Display

Canon 1DX MkII: 3.2-inch touchscreen with 1.62 million dots
Nikon D5: 3.2-inch touchscreen with 2.359 million dots

ISO Range

Canon 1DX MkII: 100-51200 (50-409600 when extended)
Nikon D5: 100-102400 (50-3280000 when extended)

Metering Methods

Canon 1DX MkII: Evaluative metering, partial metering, spot metering
Nikon D5: 3D Color Matrix metering, center-weighted average metering, spot metering, highlight weighted

Continuous Shooting

Canon 1DX MkII: 14FPS at 20.2 MP for up to 170 RAW photos (16FPS with mirror lockup)
Nikon D5: 12FPS at 20.8 MP for up to 200 RAW photos (14FPS with mirror lockup)

4K Video Recording

Canon 1DX MkII: 4096 x 2160p at 59.94 fps, 50 fps, 29.97 fps, 25 fps, 24 fps, 23.98 fps
Nikon D5: 3840 x 2160p at 30 fps, 25 fps, 24 fps

4K Clip Length

Canon 1DX MkII: 30 minutes
Nikon D5: 3 minutes (though rumour has it this will be extended).*

Weight

Canon 1DX MkII: 3.37 lb (1530 g)
Nikon D5: 3.11 lb (1415 g)

Price

Canon 1DX MkII: £5199
Nikon D5: £5199

*Nikon have been denying this being down to weather-sealing and over-heat problems, but the D5 uses the power-hungry H.264 video codec – 30 minutes record time might result in an overheat problem similar to Chernobyl.

The Canon 1DX II uses the motion jpeg (MJPG) codec – easier on the camera but needing BIG transfer bandwidth, hence the need for those rather expensive C-Fast 2.0 memory cards!

But from a stills photography PoV there isn’t generally a lot between the two cameras in terms of image size and megapixel count.

Both cameras are more than capable of shooting long continuous burst of RAW files at very high frame rates – useful for the long-lens sports photographer where depth of field even wide open is measured in meters.  Any marginal errors in the predictive autofocus calculations made by the camera become masked by the available DoF – even with wide open apertures. see HERE for more explanation!

But when it comes to wildlife photography, birds in flight, and birds flying directly at the camera in particular, one does need to ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’….

As I have pointed out many times in the past, two of the biggest contributors to poor AF performance with fast moving, closing subjects at sub 25 metres are:

  1. High Frame Rate
  2. Too many active AF points

So unless I’m shooting a ‘manual focus trap’ like this:

D3C2901 Edit 1024x680 Canon 1DX MkII

Common Kestrel Landing
©Andy Astbury/Wildlife in Pixels

I’m not really interested in shooting at 3 trillion frames per second – buy my AF Guide for Nikon and Canon for further explanation!

The Canon 1DX II is described as having new predictive AF algorithms working with the new EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF – this might increase the effective ‘sharp capture’ frame rate in AI-Servo from the 1DX Mk1 sweet-spot of 5 or 6 fps with an f4 lens;  then again it might not!  The sooner someone lends me one then the sooner I’ll be able to find out and let you know…..

I’m also pleased to see an increase in frame coverage of the 61-point High Density Reticular AF II system – this seems to be up by 24% on the original 1DX.

The overall mark changes to the 1DX stills AF system are not quite as radical as those between the Nikon D4/4S and new D5 – I’m still trying to get my head around the idea of all those AF points.

So before we all get too excited I’ll just say this: 90 percent plus of people who take pictures using autofocus DON’T actually know how it works.

Predictive AF is exactly what it says on the tin – it ‘predicts’ where the subject WILL BE when the shutter opens for the NEXT frame; and while the mirror is DOWN the AF controller/motor MOVE the lens focus to THAT PREDICTED position.

For a closing subject, the lens focus is physically AHEAD of the subject prior to the shutter opening – that’s right, a bird flies into the plane of focus….and don’t confuse plane of focus with focal plane either!

So there’s a lot going on when we shoot in Canon AI-Servo or Nikon CF, and to get a sequence of sharp continuous frames….

GX2R1981 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1985 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1989 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1990 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1991 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1994 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII

we have to regulate the amount of subject information that the camera tries to handle.  And the commonest error people make is to supply TOO MUCH of that information by using too many AF points.  That mistake is often further compounded by allowing the camera to ‘decide’ what it thinks it needs to focus on by using some form of auto-area focus mode.

This ‘overhead’ of information takes time to process.  And the only time the camera has available to process this information AND move the lens focus is that split second when the mirror is down between frames and the shutter is closed.  So the general and fairly fool-proof way of working is to use as few AF points as you need to cover the part of the subject you want sharp focus on; and then help the camera out further by giving it that extra bit of processing time/ more mirror down-time – lower frame rate!

So some of what these two cameras are offering isn’t exactly beneficial on the face of it.

But time will tell!

D5 from Nikon – Latest News

The Nikon D5 – more news & musings

D5b D5 from Nikon   Latest News

Well, the grapevine is saying that Nikon Europe will only be supplying the Dual XQD-slot version – not a bad thing in my opinion as I really like the speed increase of XQD over traditional CF.

Rumour also has it that the 30 second 4K UHD video record limit of 3 minutes is going to be increased to match the D500 30 minute capabilities.  There is some speculation as to whether this will be a “straight 30 minutes” or a 10x 3 minute sequential file recording method (WOW…..I can see that option going down like a lead balloon!).

Nikon Rumours have got their hands on a rather interesting 17 page Nikon Support internal  “CONFIDENTIAL” document about the Nikon D5. marked for limited distribution, with the instruction that the information can only be given to customers on a one to one basis.  This is a MUST READ folks:

READ IT HERE

There is also one for the D500 HERE

On the AF side of the new D5 equation, with its 153 AF points, don’t forget:

  • Only 55 of those are “selectable” – that’s just 4 more than the D4/4S
  • The total AF frame area coverage is only marginally larger on the D5 than it is on the D4/4S

So there are 98 AF points that the camera has full control of AND YOU DON’T – let’s hope they are singing off the same hymn sheet as the camera operator ALL THE TIME.

In my opinion Nikon have basically tried to re-invent the wheel somewhat with this vast number of AF points.  Canons 61 point Reticular AF unit is a damnable good standard which Nikon could have added to simply by increasing the FX frame area coverage with an extra 10 to 20 AF points.

But NOOOOOO…………..Nikon couldn’t possibly think of doing something quite so logical.

To be brutally honest, there’s a chance that Nikon have failed in the D5 to conceive a camera that meets the full requirements of the photographers it’s theoretically aimed at – the pro photograher; especially when you consider the D5 price point.

Instead, it looks to me as if they may have concieved the right thing, then added to it in order to make the camera appeal to that unique bracket of consumer – the one with more money than sense!

Let me qualify somewhat –  a proper “pro” knows what they are doing, knows their kit inside out, thinks on their feet, and can make settings decissions ‘on the fly’ virtually without thinking about them.

Give him or her a camera with 98 AF sensors that they can’t control – and the first thing they are going to look for is some way of turning the things OFF; just like they do with VR!

But turning them off is not an option, and the majority of Nikon pro users I’ve spoken to are of the same frame of mind as me – we are suspicious.  Yes the Multi-CAM3500 AF system wasn’t perfect and was in desperate need of improvement – but bloody hell Nikon, did it have to be quite so damn radical!

It’s all very well Nikon showing cool action jpgs on their website and promo material – but these are meaningless.  All the shots could have been taken on a D3 for all we know – yes, sharp action photographs were possible back then too.

What they don’t show you is a high speed sequence of 30 or 40+ full resolution images shot at 10 fps – only THAT would actually prove that the new fangled AF system actually does all that it’s hyped up to do.

On the flip-side, as I mentioned in my previous D5 related post, at least Nikon have given us access to the one thing AF-wise that was missing; an equivalent to Canon Accel/Decel tracking – but they could give that to D4/4S owners with a simple firmware upgrade – yeah they could, ‘cos it’s already there in the form of preset differences between 9 & 21 point Dynamic Area AF.  But they don’t tell you that!

At the end of my previous post I said I wanted to get my hands on a D5 now – and I still do.  But I never said anything about paying for it upfront or sight-unseen.  I only buy ‘stuff’ that I KNOW works; and I only tell you guys ‘n gals about equipment once I KNOW how well it does its job.

Until I’ve given the D5 a thorough work-out I’m just going to advise a bit of buyer-caution though – the beast might be brilliant, but then again it might not, once you peel back the hype and look at the nitty-gritty.  And £5200 is a big sum to gamble with.

Come on Nikon, have the courage of your own convictions and send a D5 to your Uncle Andy – let him prove his suspicions wrong; let him set out to prove the D5 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – and fail miserably!

 

 

 

Nikon D5

Nikon D5 – My Initial Thoughts

0632 25482 das front Nikon D5

Nikon D5

My initial thoughts/questions about this much-awaited offering from Nikon have always revolved around ONE item – AUTOFOCUS.

For a long time Canon have had the march on Nikon in the AF department – simply because of the “customisation” of the cameras AF operating criteria Canon give their users.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the speed machine Canon 1DX in comparison with Nikons D4/D4S.

Nikon have only ever allowed a customisable Focus Tracking with lock-on (FTLo):

D3C6345 Nikon D5

Whereas Canon give us:

DSC3994 Nikon D5

Nikon FTLo equates directly with Canon Tracking Sensitivity (TS), but Canon gives you custom control over Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking (ADT) – something that Nikon have consistently failed to do.

On the D4S etc there are two ADT presets, but you can’t access them directly because they are hidden inside the Dynamic Area AF modes.

I’m not going to explain in detail what ADT and TS/FTLo do – for that you’ll need to obtain my AF Guide HERE – but in very simple terms Canon TS/Nikon FTLo control the autofocus system resistance to MAJOR CHANGE and Canon ADT controls its resistance to MINOR CHANGE – two massively different variants that can effect huge differences in autofocus performance on moving subjects.

And it’s this lack of control over resistance to MINOR change independent of MAJOR change resistance settings on Nikon that is responsible for the superiority of the Canon system.

So, Nikon had the opportunity to draw level with Canon on this front with the new D5.

Have they done so?

Well, they won’t lend me one to test, and I can’t afford to order one, but after doing some digging around I find the answer (in principle anyway):

d5af Nikon D5

Nikon D5 and D500 Autofocus customisable settings.

YES – they have (as long as it works in practise that is!).

The FTLo menu now has two variables – Blocked Shot Response; which is the conventional Nikon custom control though under a name/title that’s more indicative of its function.

But now Nikon offer us Subject Motion too – and it’s this control function that I’ve been crying out for.  This equates to Canon ADT or Acceleration/Deceleration tracking.

My experiences with Canon have always led me to discount -2 and +2 ADT settings, as in my own Bird in Flight photography terms they bring nothing to the table.  So perhaps Nikon have really done their homework for once.

The other improvement I like is the 2x XQD slot option for the Nikon D5 – that would make my life a heck of a lot easier for sure.

Nothing else really excites me about the new Nikon D5 – and the touch screen on the back might prove to be less than a fun thing when wearing gloves in -20C conditions.

But the potential for the new Multicam 20K AF system is what excites me the most; it theoretically puts this DSLr body at the top of the pile for wildlife photography.

It’s not often I see a new body that I wish I could get my hands on immediately but the D5 is different – I want one NOW!

ADDENDUM

It would appear that there is a short-coming on the D5 4K video recording facility – see here.

For recording stock clips this wouldn’t be a problem for me, but a maximum of 3 minutes of 4K recording might not suite everyone.  Is there a sensor over-heat problem?

Strangely the D500 can do 30 minutes with a cropped sensor – which should run hotter you’d think.

If there are things “wrong” with the D5 now, and they are not corrected by the time they hit the retailers, or by the first firmware update BE CAREFUL…

This is where D4 buyers got caught out – they wait 12 months and bring out an S-version.

Prospec USB 3.0 card reader

Prospec USB 3.0 card reader.

A few weeks ago I decided that my Mac Pro4.1 early 2009 needed to be upgraded to USB 3, seeing as I’d not long since fitted it with an SSD for the OS – yes, I found myself in the mood to spend money; obviously I was unwell!

So I bought a 4-port expansion card from Mac Upgrades, installed it in the Mac and connected my 8TB G-drive – and all has worked perfectly ever since.

Being a mainly Nikon user, the XQD reader showed an instant improvement in transfer speed too, but for all my CF cards I was still stuck with my ancient Sandisk USB 2 reader.

I perused a few USB 3 reader prices in was left gasping – obviously I was now feeling a little better!

But then I spied this:

D4D3688 Edit Prospec USB 3.0 card reader

Prospec USB 3.0 Multi-Card Reader

Twenty quid! That’s right, just £20 – bargain!

Real world read-speed testing using Black Magic, and 32 GB Prospec 1010x CF cards yield the following results:

  1. Sandisk USB 2 reader – 36.9 MB/sec
  2. Prospec USB 3.0 reader – 112.7 MB/sec

and just as a comparison, the Sony XQD reader and H-series card averages 139.2 MB/sec.

Previous blog posts have shown you that I’m a fan of Calumet Prospec CF cards; mainly because they are re-badged Delkins, and in my experience simply bomb-proof and good VFM.

I can’t say for sure without checking, but this Prospec USB 3 reader looks VERY much like a re-brand of the Delkin USB 3.0 multi-card reader, but is basically £10 cheaper.

It certainly sucks up uncompressed D800E 14bit RAW files at an impressive rate of knots I can tell you.

In my earlier Prospec CF card post I did allude to the slightly odd fact that the larger the CF card capacity was, the faster its read speed became.  I also bought a 64Gb Prospec 1010x, just to give the D800E more capacity for shooting HQ time-lapse – this card clocks a read-speed average of 119.8 MB/sec – basically 7MB/sec faster than its 32GB cousin.

Yes, there’s cards and readers out there that might yield faster results; but at what cost to your pocket?

But this level of “REAL WORLD” performance is plenty fast enough for yours truly – especially if, like me, you have short arms and long pockets!

You can view the product HERE – BUY one!

 

Night Sky Imaging

Night Sky Photography – A Brief Introduction

D8E3685 3690composite23 Night Sky Imaging

I really get a massive buzz from photographing the night sky – PROPERLY.

By properly I mean using your equipment to the best of its ability, and using correct techniques in terms of both ‘shooting’ and post processing.

The majority of images within the vast plethora of night sky images on Google etc, and methods described, are to be frank PANTS!

Those 800 pixel long-edge jpegs hide a multitude of shooting and processing sins – such as HUGE amounts of sensor noise and the biggest sin of all – elongated stars.

Top quality full resolution imagery of the night sky demands pin-prick stars, not trails that look like blown out sausages – unless of course, you are wanting them for visual effect.

Pin sharp stars require extremely precise MANUAL FOCUS in conjunction with a shutter speed that is short enough to arrest the perceived movement of the night sky across the cameras field of view.

They also demand that the lens is ‘shot’ pretty much wide open in terms of aperture – this allows the sensor to ‘see and gather’ as many photons of light from each point-source (star) in the night sky.

So we are in the situation where we have to use manual focus and exposure with f2.8 as an approximate working aperture – and high ISO values, because of the demand for a relatively fast shutter speed.

And when it comes to our shutter speed the much-vaunted ‘500 Rule’ needs to be consigned to the waste bin – it’s just not a good enough standard to work to, especially considering modern high megapixel count sensors such as Nikon’s D800E/D810/D810A and Canons 5DS.

Leaving the shutter open for just 10 seconds using a 14mm lens will elongate stars EVER SO SLIGHTLY – so the ‘500 Rule’ speed of 500/14 = 35.71 seconds is just going to make a total hash of things.

In the shot below; a crop from the image top left; I’ve used a 10 second exposure, but in preference I’ll use 5 seconds if I can get away with it:

D8E3690 Night Sky Imaging

Nikon D800E,14-24 f2.8@14mm,10 seconds exposure,f2.8,ISO 6400
RAW, Unprocessed, Full Resolution Crop

WOW….look at all that noise…well, it’s not going to be there for long folks; and NO, I won’t make it vanish with any Noise Reduction functions or plugins either!

1444x1444testcomposite Night Sky Imaging

5 consecutive frames put through Starry Landscape Stacker – now we have something we can work with!

Download Starry Landscape Stacker from the App Store:
%name Night Sky Imaging

Huge amounts of ‘noise’ can be eradicated using Median Stacking within Photoshop, but Mac users can circumnavigate the ‘agro’ of layer alignment and layer masking by using this great ‘app’ Starry Landscape Stacker – which does all the ‘heavy lifting’ for you.  Click the link above to download it from the App Store.  Just ignore any daft iTunes pop-ups and click ‘View in Mac App Store’!

I have a demonstration of Median Stacking on my YouTube channel:

This video is best viewed on YouTube in full screen mode.

In a manner of speaking, the ‘shooting aspect’ of Milky Way/Night Sky/Wide-field Astro is pretty straight forward.  You are working in between some very hard constraints with little margin for error.

  • The Earths rotation makes the stars track across our frame – so this dictates our shutter speed for any given focal length of lens – shorter focal length = longer shutter speed.
  • Sensor Megapixel count – more megs = shorter shutter speed.
  • We NEED to shoot with a ‘wide open’ aperture, so our ISO speed takes over as our general exposure control.
  • Focusing – this always seems to be the big ‘sticking point’ for most folk – and despite what you read to the contrary, you can’t reliably use the ‘hyperfocal’ method with wide open apertures – it especially will not work with wide-angle zoom lenses!
  • The Earths ‘seasonal tilt’ dictates what we can and can’t see from a particular latitude; and in conjunction with time of day, dictates the direction and orientation of a particular astral object such as the Milky Way.
  • Light pollution can mask even the cameras ability to record all the stars, and it effects the overall scene luminance level.
  • The position and phase of the moon – a full moon frequently throws far too much light into the entire sky – my advice is to stay at home!
  • A moon in between its last quarter and new moon is frequently diagonally opposite the Milky Way, and can be useful for illuminating your foreground.

And there are quite a few other considerations to take into account, like dew point and relative humidity – and of course, the bloody clouds!

The point I’m trying to make is that these shots take PLANNING.

Using applications and utilities like Stellarium and Photographers Ephemeris in conjunction with Google Earth has always been a great way of planning shots.  But for me, the best planning aid is Photopills – especially because of its augmented reality feature.  This allows you to pre-visualise your shot from your current location, and it will compute the dates and times that the shot is ‘on’.

Download Photopills from the App Store:

Photopills400x400bb 150x150 Night Sky Imaging

But it won’t stop the clouds from rolling in!

Even with the very best planning the weather conditions can ruin the whole thing!

I’m hoping that before the end of the year I’ll have a full training video finished about shooting perfect ‘wide field astro’ images – it’ll cover planning as well as BOTH shooting AND processing.

I will show you how to:

  • Effectively use Google Earth in conjunction with Stellarium and Photopills for forward planning.
  • The easiest way to ensure perfect focus on those stars – every time.
  • How to shoot for improved foreground.
  • When, and when NOT to deploy LONG EXPOSURE noise reduction in camera – black frame shooting.
  • How to process RAW files in Lightroom for correct colour balance.
  • How to properly use both Median Stacking in Photoshop and Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce ISO noise.
  • And much more!

One really useful FREE facility on the net is the Light Pollution Map website – I suggest using the latest 2015 VIIRIS overlay and the Bing Map Hybrid mode in order to get a rough idea of your foreground and the background light pollution effecting your chosen location.

Don’t forget – if you shoot vertical (portrait?) with a 14mm lens, the top part of the frame can be slightly behind you!

 

 

Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

GX2R2055 Edit 21 Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

My Autofocus Guide for Bird in Flight Photography is finished and available for download in my online store – here, priced £29.00

The download is in the no-frills .pdf format.

Screen Shot 2016 12 10 at 12.20.12 352x400 Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

This is my ‘real world’ guide to Canon & Nikon Autofocus which is specifically aimed at photographers using long lenses for Bird in Flight photography.

I sell my full resolution wildlife and natural history images every day via the various global image libraries to which I am a contributor.  The largest percentage of these sales are Birds in Flight.

Image libraries demand tack sharp, full resolution uploads from their contributors;  even marginal sharpness will result in an image being rejected by Quality Control.

D4D7980 Edit Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

A large male White-tailed eagle, locally known as “Brutus”, carrying a very large Coalfish.

In this guide, I take you right back to the basics of subject speed and distance; and how this impacts on our choice of camera body and lens focal length and working aperture.

D4S6788 Edit Edit Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

A Red Kite in a fast dive against a blue sky.

You’ll learn how phase detection autofocus works – only by really understanding how your autofocus system works, and what its control settings actually do, will you truly be able to control it in the way you need to for the particular task at hand.

I give you exposure and autofocus control settings for both Canon and Nikon, based on ‘real world’ full resolution images – settings that actually work, and do the job you expect them to do.

We also discover the various ‘tips ‘n tricks’ we need to know to help the autofocus system do the job we are asking it to do.

We also look at the short-comings of both the Nikon and Canon systems, and how to work around them in order to produce tack sharp images of birds in flight – HAND HELD – forget that tripod; you can’t move fast enough with one!

Photographers who have read this guide as it was being written have called it ‘the definitive guide’.  I’m not going to be so big-headed as to promote it as such myself, but I will say that it’s taken a while to produce, is pretty darn thorough, and I have the shots to prove it!

Available for purchase in my online store right now.

Please Note: This document relates to LONG LENS continuous auto focus tracking in Nikon AFC and Canon AI Servo modes in conjunction with continuous shooting modes on Nikon D4/4S and Canon 1Dxbodies with v2 firmware or higher, and is primarily related to capturing Birds in Flight and other fast-paced wildlife action photography.
Canon 5DMk3/7DMk2 users will also find this guide very useful, as will non-wildlife shooters.