Thursday, September 18, 2014

Photo Basics: ISO

   I realize these are probably my least read posts of all, but I would like to continue with my "photo basics" posts in the event that someone does find them useful and just isn't speaking up. I have many readers on this blog who, for whatever reason, have never left a comment. Or if someone finds these posts in the future and it helps them then I think it is worth it. For those of you who find these useful, thank you for patiently waiting for another. I put a hold on these posts for a while when I was abroad and just didn't get back into doing them afterwards.

   Let's jump into it. ISO. What is it? Why is it? Who is it? How does it taste? And so on. Perhaps I can't answer all of those but maybe I can answer some of the questions you have about ISO.

   When film was the only medium to shoot on there was a rating on each different film roll called an ASA rating. Lower ASA film needed more light to be properly exposed and not be too dark. These low number film rolls were usually marketed on the box as "for sunny days," or whatever. The higher your ASA, the less light a particular roll of film needed from your scene. This meant the film was more sensitive to light and it also meant more "grain." This grain was little flecks of silver that would show up in the image. So as a general rule, lower ASA less grain good for bright days, higher ASA more grain but better for darker scenes.

   But how does that relate to digital photography? We no longer use film, so what do we need to know ASA ratings for? Well you still need to record the information your camera captures onto something. Back in the day this was film, but now film has been replaced by light sensitive digital sensors. Though it isn't film, we still need some way of knowing how sensitive to light that sensor is just like with film. How do we do that?

    ISO stands for International Standards Organization. To put it simply these people took ASA ratings, matched them up with different sensor sensitivities and gave the sensors ISO ratings. So in theory 100 ASA = 100 ISO. This isn't exactly true but as a very crude generalization, that's good enough. So in turn this also means that the lower the ISO, the more light the sensor needs, and the higher the ISO the less it needs. But unlike with film grain, we get something a little bit different in digital sensors called "noise" as we change our sensors sensitivity higher.

   This "digital noise" happens to all electronics as you push them further and further. For the sake of simplicity I won't explain that much in detail but if you'd like to know more (and you're a nerd like me) there are tons of sites explaining all the small details of how digital noise is introduced into electronics. Digital noise doesn't quite look like film grain though because digital noise shows up as random specs of color throughout the image, mostly in darker areas of the photo. Photographers can kind of bend reality to make it look close to film grain, but in the end grain is grain and noise is noise. At the end of the day just remember that higher ISOs have a lot of noise and unlike film grain, it doesn't look as nice.

Nikon D610 at 3200 ISO
   Some cameras handle this noise better than others. Older cameras or cheaper ones will have a
Nikon D5000 at 3200 ISO cheaper/older camera
whole lot of noise at, say, 1000 ISO, but a newer or more expensive camera may not have any at all. Many other factors play into how much noise comes in at higher ISOs like sensor size, megapixel count, in camera processing, lighting, sensor manufacturer and so on. But really don't bother yourself with all of that. Generally all cameras are fairly good in low light at this point but some are better than others. Technology has come a long way in terms of ISO. On the right I have two examples of differently priced cameras from two different eras but at the same ISO. It's hard to tell but the Nikon D5000 doesn't hold up in low light as well. You may need to enlarge them to see what I mean. I'm pretty impressed with the Nikon D5000 though. It still held up quite well proving that older technology shouldn't be completely scrapped just yet.

   Some other things to consider when choosing which ISO to use are color and detail. When you go up through the ISO ranges colors start to change a little. Not so much that red becomes blue, but what you thought was bright orange may not be so vibrant as you climb to higher ISOs. Again, the difference is subtle, but sometimes it makes all the difference. Detail also takes a hit at higher ISOs. If an image is cluttered with digital noise, hard edges become softer. In my opinion (as with anything on this blog) I think it is best to shoot at the lowest ISO possible for the amount of light available and the image I am trying to capture.

   If you have read my other photo basics posts then you will know that aperture and shutter speed go hand in hand when properly exposing an image. Now you must also think about ISO. In a future post I will put all three together and explain how each one effects the other.

   Here are some examples of what different ISO's do. Keep an eye on two things as you look through each image. One: the black box and shadow area to the right of the motorcycle helmet. Here is where you will see the digital noise the most. Two: the color of the chair. Watch as it changes ever so slightly as I climb the ISO ranges. No editing was done to these images. I merely took the RAW files straight from the camera and converted them to JPEG for this blog.
Nikon D610 100 ISO

Nikon D610 200 ISO

Nikon D610 400 ISO

Nikon D610 1600 ISO
Nikon D610 25600 ISO (looks like a dumb instagram filter)
   Anyways guys I hope this helped. If you have any questions, feedback, suggestions, or anything else, please leave a comment. I read them all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Nikon D750; Am I Regretting the D610?

   I have recently bought the D610. A full frame 24.3mp camera that fixed a few issues people were having with the D600. It shoots 6 frames per second, great performance at high ISO, records 1080p video, is relatively small, the list goes on and on. In simple terms, it does everything I really need it to do while still being small enough to do the kind of candid photography I like to do. I don't really ever see myself going to a professional body simply because of the size alone.

   Then come the announcement of the D750 literally a month after I buy the D610. So what do I think? Should I have waited? First let's take a look at the specs. A full list can be found here but I will run down a few of the major specs that stood out to me.

This Nikon D750 will include:
  • 24.3MP full frame CMOS sensor
  • 6.5fps
  • 1080p @ 60,50,30,25,24 fps
  • A tilting LCD screen
  • Built-in wifi
  • Lower weight/thinner profile
  • 1/4000 max shutter speed
  • 51 point auto focus
  • Powered aperture while recording video
  • +more stuff

   This all comes at a price difference from the D610 of about $400. So am I crying myself to sleep every night that I bought the D610?... Absolutely not and here is my lengthy explanation why...

It's the same thing!(lengthy)

   If you know anything about the specs of the Nikon D610, this new D750 has very little differentiating the two systems. If anything this new body should have been the Nikon "D650" or something. It is not a full upgrade at all.

   No doubt this camera will be amazing, I would be foolish to say that it won't be,
but a full upgrade from the D610? Really the only reason I would ever grab the D750 over the 610 would be for the better auto focus (the D610's auto focus is infamously ridiculous but you learn to work with it) and the powered aperture in video mode. Even the lighter weight wouldn't be a factor for me as the D610's weight is comfortable. Oh and come on, that tilting screen? Even the D5000 had a better tilting screen because it could also rotate even though it was utterly useless on a tripod. The D750 screen tilts up...and down... The inner college girl in my brain is screaming, "#Gimmick #partytrick omg for realz Nikon?"

   So some of you may be saying, "But Alex! Built in wi-fi!" and I say, "No please keep that crap away." Yes, I do see the benefits to built in wi-fi. Yes I see how convenient it can be and how wonderfully glorified it is. But when I think about it, that's actually kind of dangerous for casual shooters and, say, a working journalist alike. Not too long ago I read a story about a guy who followed random young girls on instagram (or twitter) and just through their constant uploading of photos alone, he was able to track them down and identify them in a public place. Fortunately he was doing it to prove a point and not to harm them. Apply that same scenario to a journalist working in an area he/she may not be the safest in. Perhaps said journalist forgot to turn off the wifi function or something? Perhaps something like that sounds far fetched but if you are documenting a war torn area, do you really want the people with guns knowing where you are going so that you can spread the word of their crimes? I'd rather not take the chance.
   Again, these may be extreme examples, but to me it turns me off of wi-fi connected DSLRs. Besides, I really don't want to post unedited RAW files to the internet and I would rather be focused on shooting than uploading to instagram. 

   Anyways, my final thoughts on the D750 are as follows... It's really kind of the same thing as the D610. The only real improvement (on paper of course, I have never used one so take that for what you will) for me would be the improved auto focus. Some of the other things are just nice to haves. But is a better auto focus worth $400 to me? No... no not really.

(Edit: I would like to point out that a FULLY ARTICULATING TOUCH SCREEN is something that is terribly needed on ALL DSLRs, including professional systems. The lack of such a screen is just my opinion.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why I Decided to Take a Photography Class

   My blog is called "Making a Scene" for a reason. I continuously encourage people to go out and "Make a Scene" for a reason. This blog was intended to be an avenue for my photography. It is something I enjoy doing and I believe I am at least slightly proficient at. When I snap an image, I believe I am making a scene. Of course I talk about other things too because I myself enjoy reading blogs that are diverse. Perhaps that is the wrong way to run a blog, but that's a topic for another discussion.
   On this blog I have posted some knowledge on photography basics aimed at teaching people how to use their camera. I have stopped for a bit because I went to Japan but I will be writing more of those posts in the future. Today I went to my second beginners photography class and so the question I would naturally ask someone is, "How can you teach the subject if you are taking the class?" So I will explain and for that we must go back to the 90's!

   This is not my first photography class. Middle school is where I became interested in photography. I had seen a film in the 90's about a young guy who documents his odd family using a 35mm film camera. What movie you ask? None other than the movie, "Pecker." For all it's absurdity, the movie really got me interested in photography, and more importantly, photo journalism. I didn't know what it was called at the time, but I knew I liked that he was making images about what happens around him in his life. I was not a rich kid though and when I went to look for a good starting camera, all I saw were 3 and 4 digit numbers. Digital photography was barely taking off in the early 2000s and film cameras were still in very high demand. This meant that film cameras (unlike today) were still relatively expensive, and digital cameras (being new technology) were even more out of my price range.
   So I did what I could with what I had. My mom had bought me a weird little Sony camera one Christmas and that is what I had I think all the way through high school. In fact I probably still have it somewhere. Other than that I never would have dreamed I could have picked up a real DSLR but the itch was always in the back of my mind. With that little camera, and later cell phones, I knew I was making pretty cool looking images, but I never really had any formal training.
   Fast forward a little bit to high school. Now is my one chance to actually get some formal training in photography. I sign up for my school's photo journalism class and I am excited and ready. But of course, this class was a let-down for a few reasons. Let me begin by saying that the photojournalism teacher was probably one of the sweetest ladies you would have ever met. She and I really got along. For whatever reason she could see more in my photography than even I could and she always encouraged me to do more.
   It is very unfortunate that I went to high school in somewhere like my hometown, at least in terms of photography though. In a town where art was rarely ever a high priority, schools allocated less and less funds to the creative classes. As such, my photography class had enough money only for basic point and shoots. A caveat: GEAR DOES NOT MAKE THE PHOTOGRAPHER. But what point and shoots do not allow you to do is learn. Point and shoots are great for snapshots or for learning things like composition, but for anyone seriously wishing to learn, a point and shoot cannot give you the control you need. So I was stuck reading theory from a text book and never being able to practice that theory.
   But that isn't the only reason this class was a let down. As I stated before, the town I grew up in did not have a very strong artistic culture. Not much art comes from there. There are great works of art which have come from my home town, but it is not really known to be a hub of artistic talent. Because of this, the general attitude towards creativity was muted at best and discouraged more often. Those of my peers who were taking the class were simply taking the class for an easy A. Trying to concentrate and be creative in an environment like that was incredibly difficult.
   With all that said, I learned next to nothing. A few nuggets of theory stuck in my brain but it would have been just the same had I not taken the class. It wasn't until after high school that I really started picking up photography. By this time DSLRs had dropped dramatically in price, especially used ones, and information was all over the internet. Plus I had my own job and could afford to buy what I needed to learn. As soon as I realized I could learn photography myself I was a glutton for information much as I am for any other topic I am interested in. (I read a lot.)
   This is where I explain why I am taking a beginner photography class even though I have already been paid for my photography. (Kind of backwards right?) The first reason is quite simple. Just like a native Chinese speaker taking a beginning Mandarin class, I simply wanted an easy A. But beyond that I don't think it is ever safe to say you are completely the best at anything you have learned. Think about it, if that were true, then innovation would be stuck at the invention of the wheel. But instead because someone learned how to make a wheel (perhaps from the inventor) that person then went on to learn more about it ultimately ending up in your Toyota Prius today. All because someone said, "Yeah, I know all about this wheel, but I want to learn more about it." There are always things you don't know and things you didn't know you didn't know. For that reason I am filling in the gaps in my knowledge in this class. Perhaps I will come away with no new knowledge, but how will I know if I never took a class? Even if this class improves my photography by only 1%, it was well worth it. My last reason for taking the class is structured assignments and breaking me out of my photography comfort zone. I will be forced to do things like studio work which I learned to loathe. But I am now looking forward to it just to get the rust out of those particular set of gears in my creativity.

   So to sum this all up, I am taking a photography class as a nice little refresher. This is not my major in school (bless the poor souls who are going for art degrees) my major is actually computer science. But it is something I plan to continue doing professionally or semi-professionally in the future along side my other career goals. Beyond that I just simply enjoy it. I enjoy writing my blog, I enjoy teaching about photography where I can, and I enjoy making a scene for you, my readers, about the things I see. This should be as much of an adventure for you as it is for me.