Buy the Right Camera

Cameras come in all shapes and sizes, and even though one may look similar to another, that doesn’t they mean they’re the same or geared towards the same type of photographer. The trick is to get the camera that’s right for you.

CT River Ferry Park
CT River Ferry Park

Nancy and I were in a box store this past weekend and walked through the camera department to see what they had. While there, a man on a cell phone went to the DSLR section and asked the person on the other end if they remembered what camera he was supposed to get. I immediately knew there was some uncertainty because they weren’t sure if it was a Canon or a Nikon, and he commented that they all looked the same. I’m not sure if he ended up getting anything, but he mentioned something about a $1000 one because it had a big lens.

Now, a $1000 camera is probably not a bad camera, but it might not be the right one for that person. The trick to getting the right camera is to ask yourself a few questions.

  • What type of photos will be taking?
  • Will you be shooting in inside or outside?
  • Will you be shooting in bright light or dark areas?
  • Will you be shooting still subjects like landscapes or fast moving subjects like race cars?
  • Do you plan to print your pictures or just view the on a computer? If you print them, how big do you plan to print?
East Haddam Swing Bridge
East Haddam Swing Bridge

If you’re shooting mostly landscapes, an iPhone or other cell phone camera might be all you need. The photo on the right of the bridge in the fog was taken with an Android phone. I was driving around and only had my phone with me and saw the fog covered bridge and had to take a picture. At the time I wished I had an actual camera with me, but after seeing the results, I don’t think it would have come out any better with a camera. I’ve looked at some amazing photos and am shocked when I learn that they were taken with a cell phone.

Wildflowers - Mount Washington, NH
Wildflowers – Mount Washington, NH

However, for the waterfall photo at the top of this post, a DSLR or mirrorless type camera was really needed because I had to shoot at a small aperture to slow down the shutter and produce the soft, silky image of the water I was going for. A point and shoot or cell phone don’t have that ability and wouldn’t have produced the same result. It doesn’t mean the DSLR is better. It just means that it was better for that type of photo.

Here are a few general points to consider. If you mostly shoot outside or in bright areas, a good quality cell phone or point and shoot may be all you need. If possible, go with a camera that allows you to shoot in RAW. This will give a lot more flexibility if you choose to post process your photos in a program like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

Merimere Reservoir, Meriden, CT
Merimere Reservoir, Meriden, CT

If you want to take it up a notch, a mid-priced DSLR such as the Canon 60D is a great way to go. Cameras like this can be purchased for a fair price and will work great for most people in most situations. Because the lenses are removable, they can be used for ultra wide angle shots to super telephotos. They’ll work better in low light situations or with fast action such as kids playing soccer or baseball. Overall, they are a good general purpose type camera and can easily take photos like the waterfall above.

If you want to take it further and will frequently be shooting in low light or subjects with lots of action,  you may want to consider one of the pro or semi-pro type cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III. They’re rugged, generally more weather resistant than a less expensive camera and they’re big and heavy.

However, it’s a full frame camera with excellent high ISO capabilities and is perfect for shooting in low light. It also features an advanced focusing system that makes focusing on moving subjects faster and easier. When adding high quality glass such as the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II, you’ve got the perfect combination for shooting photos in almost any type of situation.

Hartford Skyline
Hartford Skyline

What is the best camera to buy? That all depends on what you’re going to use it for. Before buying anything, I suggest asking yourself the questions above and talking to other photographers and maybe even renting a few to try out before making a purchase. That way you’ll get to experience them first hand. Also, I suggest going to a camera store and talking to the sales person. If the store is reputable, they’ll help you find the ideal camera. They’ll want you to be happy because they want you to come back and recommend them to their friends, and of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me about different gear.

Other than the waterfall up top and the bridge in the fog, I’ve included some random photos from my gallery in this write up. They were taken with a variety of cameras, some point and shoot and some higher end. Can you tell which was which? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Destination: New York International Auto Show

If you’re looking for something fun to do that provides a unique photo opportunity, the New York International Auto Show in New York City is definitely worth a visit. This year’s auto show is March 29 – April 7, 2013.

Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru
Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru

We went last year and had a great time, and the best part is that cameras and video equipment are allowed. Like most events, I suggest getting there early before the crowds. Touring the whole show takes a long time, and seeing everything in one day may not be possible, so plan carefully what you want to see.  Start with the things that interest you most because you’ll find yourself getting distracted by all the interesting things to see (lovely female models) and may not make it to the area you wanted to see the most.

Mini Display, Feels like London
Mini Display, Feels like London

The New York International Auto Show is the most attended show in North America, and auto manufacturers often announce new products here. Some interesting vehicles being revealed at the 2013 show are the Audi A3, Cadillac CTS, Chevy Camera SS, Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG, Toyota Highlander, and a 1200 horsepower Shelby Mustang plus others.

The show is held in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is a huge glass building. It has four floors and covers 6 blocks between 34th and 40th Street on 11th Avenue. If you attend, be prepared for a lot of walking, and if you buy food at the show, high food prices.

Bugatti Veyron
Bugatti Veyron

Even though some refer to it as a “car” show, there are lot more than cars on display, over 1000 vehicles total. One whole floor is dedicated to trucks, with everything from off road type pick ups and SUVs to cargo vans that a delivery company would use. Another floor features motorcycles, and others have everything from million dollar exotic super cars like the Bugatti Veyron to “mom and pop” cars that a family would drive. There are also lots of booths with vendors promoting products that aren’t automotive related.

Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep
Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep

Because cameras are allowed, photo opportunities abound, but with over a million people attending the show during its 10 day run, getting people-free photos of the cars can be a challenge. Some of the displays, especially the exotic and concept cars, have ropes around them, and people tend to line up around the ropes. Usually, if you wait a minute or two, you’ll make your way towards the front of the display and have a good shot of the car, but because people come and go so quickly, you need to shoot quickly before someone comes into your camera view.

Matt Practicing his Driving Skills
Matt Practicing his Driving Skills

Last year I brought a Canon S95 point and shoot last year, and it worked great.  An expensive camera isn’t needed, but something wide a wide angle lens is best since you’ll be relatively close to the vehicles. The show features all kinds lights, from the main lights in the convention center to the ones being used in the displays of the cars themselves, so I shoot on auto white balance, which is pretty accurate most of the time. I shot RAW and can adjust the white balance if needed in post.

Most of the displays are bright and super high ISOs are not needed, but a flash really makes the color pop. The display lights can create a lot of specular highlights and shadows, and the flash helps balance everything out. If your camera allows for it, I’d shoot in aperture priority mode so you can control depth of field.

If anyone is going to the show, let me know, and maybe we can meet up and say hi.

Bushnell Photography Meetup

Just got back from another great photo through the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group here in Connecticut and had a great time. This Meetup was at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, a gorgeous facility that opened in 1930 and features 2 theaters that have hosted famous Broadway shows and performers including Duke Ellington, Katherine Hepburn and others. Our group consisted of 40 photographers that split into 2 groups once inside so there weren’t so many people in a single area at at time. The shoot was awesome because we got to see things people don’t normally see like the projection room where the spotlights are and where films are projected from if there’s a movie being played. The greatest thing was spending time with other photographers and seeing how each person views a subject differently.

If you’re in the Connecticut area, I highly recommend going on a tour at the Bushnell. They’re free to the public and given by volunteers who have a love and knowledge of the facility. The Bushnell can be contacted directly through their website or (860) 987-6000. If you’re not in CT, check out the Meetup site and see if there are any photography groups in your area or join a photo walk or workshop hosted by a professional photographer. I’ve enjoyed all the events I’ve attended so far.

Below are some of my photos of the event, and here’s a link to the photos taken by others.

Import EXIF Data into TIFF Files Created in Olympus Viewer 2

Folks have been talking on Google Plus about converting Olympus OM-D E-M5 RAW files, and after some testing, they came to the conclusion that files converted using the Olympus Viewer 2 software look better than those converted using Adobe Lightroom 4. Rob Knight created an informative YouTube video comparing the differences and another YouTube video showing his workflow in Viewer 2 to make that happen.

I use Windows and he uses a Mac, but both versions work about the same. However, my workflow is a little different, so I thought I’d explain it below. I only use Viewer 2 to do the initial conversion from RAW to TIFF, which I then edit in Lightroom. Because I’m not using Viewer 2 to cull my files convert all of them. While in the “browse screen,” I select all the files and click the RAW button up top.

Olympus Viewer 2 Browse Screen
Olympus Viewer 2 Browse Screen

This brings up the RAW Development screen where adjustments are made using the adjustment panel on the right. The only adjustments I do in Viewer 2 are white balance, noise reduction (I actually turn it off and make sure V2 doesn’t do any) and then distortion control and vignetting. I do everything else in Lightroom.

Adjustments are made to the files that are selected (not checked off, but selected) in the “browser” section at the bottom. If one file is selected, adjustments will only be done on that single file. If multiple files are selected, all those files will get the same adjustment. The check box is for exporting files. If a file has a check mark, it will be exported. If it doesn’t, it won’t, even if adjustments have been made to the file.

Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Development Screen
Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Development Screen

Once all those adjustments are made, choose the save button up top, which brings up the “saveall” screen. We could export with 8 bit files and include the EXIF data, but RAW files contain more than 8 bits of data, so we’d be throwing some of the info away. Choosing 16 bits keeps the most amount of data possible. Unfortunately, there’s no option to keep the EXIF data when using 16 bit, but there’s a workaround for that. EXIF data is important because it includes information like shutter speed, aperture and more.

Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Save All Screen
Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Save All Screen

After exporting the files to TIFF format, I use ExifTool by Phil Harvey, which will take the EXIF info in the ORF Raw files and import it into the TIFF files. It comes in both Windows and Mac versions. The Windows version is a single, standalone file that I copied into a folder that’s located in my Windows path. I wanted to be able to run the program directly from the command prompt without having to change directories, so I created the batch file below and named it goex, short for Go EXIF. The period at the end of the last line is required.

@echo off
D:
cd “D:\Users\Mark D. Hall\Desktop\%1”
@echo on
exiftool -tagsfromfile %%d%%f.orf -all:all -overwrite_original -r -ext tif .

For this to work, the ORF RAW files and recently exported TIFF files must be in the same directory. Then, I open Command Prompt and then type “goex 100olymp” or whatever the name of the directory is where the files are stored. I usually save mine onto the Desktop when I import them from the memory card. The good thing about this batch file is that you can have nested folders, and the program will work on all directories under the one you specify.

Going into detail about how paths and batch files work is more than I get get into into this post, plus I don’t really know how to explain it, but there’s a lot of information available on the net. If you have any questions about how to get ExifTool working, the developer is super responsive and very helpful.

Move Around for the Best Shot

Move around for the best shot? What are you talking about, Mark? How can you get a quality picture if you’re moving around? Won’t it be blurry? No, I’m not talking about moving around as in dancing in place while taking the picture. I’m talking about looking around, seeing if there’s a better angle or spot to shoot from. Let me explain. Last autumn, Nancy and I went to nearby Devil’s Hopyard State Park to take some photos of Chapman Falls, a multi-cascade waterfall that drops about 60 feet. With the leaves being in full color and rain the day before, I knew there was a chance for some good photos. What I didn’t count on was the 100 other people there with the same thought.

After eventually finding a place to park, we made our way down the main trail to the foot of the falls and was surprised to the area full of people. With so many people around, I did a couple things to get my pictures faster and to avoid hogging the prime spot for too long, which brings me to a quick rant.

I try to be polite all the time, and when I see someone taking a photo, I wait for them to take their photo. When I see they’re done, I ask them if they’re done because I don’t want to move in if they’re going to take another, but so many people are not this way. They’ll just walk right in front of someone taking a photo, sometimes spending several minutes there, when the photographer only needs a couple seconds to get their shots. It reminds me of a recent experience pro photographers Rick Sammon and Juan Pons had on one of their workshops with some folks exhibiting rude behavior.

Anyway, I didn’t want to hot the prime spot for too long, so I did some things that any photographer can do in situations where there are a lot of people vying for a small spot. I stepped aside and got my camera set up with the settings I wanted to use before moving in to take the photo. With waterfalls, a slow shutter is needed to blur the motion, so a tripod is a must. When a spot opened up, I moved in, set up my tripod, quickly composed the shot and took a picture. I did a couple more with slightly different settings and different angles and moved out. Total time in “the zone,” less than a minute.

Chapman Falls, East Haddam, CT
Chapman Falls, East Haddam, CT

I was able to get the shot at the left, which I like, but I wanted something better, which I couldn’t with so many people around. I figured the pictures I took were the best I’d get and hiked back up top, but when I got to the top, I started looking around and noticed a different trail heading down the opposite sides of the falls. I had to be careful because it was a little precipitous from the recent rains, but I ended up having the entire area to myself except for a girl sunbathing on a nearby rock.

It was great because I was able to set up my tripod and move around wherever I wanted and spend as much time as I needed to make sure I got the shot right. I ended up getting the shot at the top of the blog post, which I like a lot more than shot of the entire falls. Others feel the same way because that photo had a pulse rating of 91.5 versus a 59.7 on 500px.

Sometimes when we take photos, we may get so focused on what we’re seeing that we may forget to look around and see if there’s a different way we can take the photo, but I so glad I did because if I hadn’t seen the side trail and moved over there, I wouldn’t have been able to get this one. There’s always a lot going on when taking photos, but looking and moving is something that can help everyone take better photos I think.

Photo Walks – A Great Way to Improve Your Photography

Hi everyone! Well, I did something I’ve heard about for a long time but have have never done. I attended my first photo walk yesterday, and let me tell you. I wish I had gone to one sooner. I was always nervous to join a club or go on a walk because I feared that everyone would be in competition with each other. You know, wondering who was the best photographer, who had the best camera and things like that. Well, that was not the case at all.

My friend, Rich, told me about a Meetup, or photo walk, that the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group was having at Bushnell Park in Hartford and asked if I wanted to go. Bushnell Park is Hartford’s version of Central Park in New York City and has lots of statues, views of the buildings and activities to photograph. Alone, I wouldn’t have gone, but with his encouragement, it sounded fun.

When we arrived, we immediately met up with others and began talking. I used to geocache, and it was a very similar experience to that. You may not know everyone, but because you share the same hobby, there’s an instant connection.

After talking for awhile we headed out and started taking photos. I was on my own for awhile and with Rich some of the time. The park is relatively small, so every 15 or 20 minutes, we’d pass someone with a camera and stop and talk for a bit. It was neat because when you’d pass someone, you’d share ideas and point out things to photograph. “Did you see the hawk over there?” “No, but I’ll check it out. Did you go to the capitol yet? It has some amazing detail in the stone work…” Things like that, and it was cool.

The Pond at Bushnell Park
The Pond at Bushnell Park

For example, the location shown in the photo on the right was a very popular spot. The sculpture, the buildings and the pond attracted everyone’s attention, and while I’m happy with my photo, it was great to see how everyone else shot the scene. One photo was a black and white closeup of the sculpture, and another was taken late in the evening with the glow of the building and park lights reflecting off the pond. Some were shot horizontal and others vertical, and seeing all these photos gave me ideas for future shoots, not to copy them, but to learn from and push me to try different things.

So, even though I was reluctant to ever go on a photo walk, I’m so happy I did. Not only was everyone friendly, but they were also willing to share their tips and explain why they like to do certain things, which is totally not what I expected. Because of my positive experience, I plan to go to more of these, and I’d encourage other photographers who may be on the fence to give it a try. The Meetup site is a great place to start, and if there’s nothing in your area, check with a local camera store. They may host their own get togethers or have info on some in the area.

If you have any questions about Meetups or photo walks, please let me know, or if you’re in the Connecticut area and would like to learn more about the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group, they would love to hear from you.

Olympus FL-600R Flash Review

I recently picked up an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a pair of FL-600R flashes and wanted to test out their remote capabilities because I’d read that their wireless capabilities were first rate. I grabbed a Promaster 20″ soft box, a silver reflector, the awesome Olympus 45 f/1.8 and my wife, Nancy, to use as a model and began my setup. I chose the 45 f/1.8 because of its amazing sharpness and shallow depth of field, which results in some great bokeh.

I took the photos near our Christmas Tree and had a very limited amount of space to set up. I put the softbox on her right, a little above eye level and about 3 feet from her face. The great thing about the FL-600R is that all settings can be controlled from the camera, so I set the flash to full power and TTL mode.

Nancy with Softbox and Reflector
Nancy with Softbox and Reflector

For the first few pictures, one of which is shown to the left, I placed a silver reflector on her left side to fill in the shadows, but because of the tight space, only a little light bounced back onto her face, which created darker shadows than I wanted. To fix this, I placed a second FL-600R with a 6×8 softbox by Fotodiox on her left set to -1 1/3 stops and TTL mode. This resulted in the look I was going for and resulted in the photo above.

I’ve only just begun to explore the features of the OM-D and the FL-600R, but I’m looking to experiment more and try different things.