Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Environmental Photography: Snow and Streetlights

A friend at work had a couple of questions about how to take good pictures of streetlight lit snow covered trees, specifically in terms of white balance. Not saying that these are the best examples in the world or anything, but for an exercise.....

These were both taken at 1/4 at f/4.0, ISO800. I initially selected the Tungsten white balance setting on camera (even though I shoot RAW). This gave a not bad rendition, but still fairly yellow. In Lightroom tungsten WB shows up as a color temperature of 2850k. Playing with the sliders and presets it seemed that the lower the color temperature setting was the more white and less yellow/amber the overall color was, which made sense. I ended up with a setting almost at the lowest limit (2000k) of 2100k range which gave the very white look I have above.

Reading through this post on understanding white balance, they suggest (obviously, don't see why I didn't think of this) using the snow itself to set white balance (should your camera allow it). Using the WB dropper in lightroom on the snow it sets color temperature to 2150, which is pretty much what my manual setting was.

So basically, if your camera has a custom white balance setting, use it and use the snow as your guide. Even if it's flooded with that orange streetlight color the camera will set itself to consider that white, giving you nice white snow in your final image.

If your camera doesn't have a custom white balance, make sure you know about what color temperatures the different settings on your camera use, and use the lowest one you can. On the K20D this is Tungsten at around 2850k (according to page 160 in the manual).

Note of course that this is for this particular situation, snow lit by orange streetlights. The exact situation you have will vary, and heck, cameras these days even have a "snow mode" preset anyway! Some more snow tips are here at

Don't forget that white snow will fool your sensor into thinking it's brighter than it is, so you need to manually set (about) -1EV on the camera to get a nice bright image and not a grey muddy one. Also experiment, find out what settings work best by taking lots of pictures to find what looks best to you!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thinking About a Pocket P&S

While I love love love my DSLR, it's large enough that it's not reasonable to take it with me all the time, to work every day on the train or to family or work gatherings, and because of that I find myself taking less and less pictures lately. I'm sure I could take it with me, but it is definitely not convenient.

So lately I've been thinking about a "pro" point-and-shoot camera... something that is pocket sized, but gives me the options image quality and flexibility that I've become accustomed to with a DSLR. Specifically I've been looking at the Canon G10 and the Panasonic LX3. These two seem to be "the" pro-point-and-shoot cameras, and the G10's predecessor the G9 and the LX3 are well reviewed and loved by the guys on the This Week in Photography podcast.

Here's my issue. Both cameras have both pros and cons, and I'm not sure if the pros of one outweigh the pros of the other. For example:


  • RAW mode
  • Full manual controls and good fine grained control
  • Large high resolution screen
  • Crappy at higher resolutions easily attained by DSLRs (no surprise)
  • Just larger than pocket size... neither would fit nicely in a jeans pocket it seems (still way better than a DSLR of course!)
  • Have built in optical image stabilization
Canon G10
  • I really love the manual dials for mode, EV, and ISO control
  • Canon is kinda well known for making good cameras
  • Optical viewfinder
  • 5x Zoom
Panasonic LX3
  • Slightly smaller than the G10
  • Unique 16:10 / 3:2 / 4:3 aspect ratio selector
  • High quality 2.0-2.8 Leica lens
  • Wide angle lens (24mm vs the G10s 28mm, so equivalent to the wide angle on my DA16-45)
  • 720p movie mode (I don't use movie mode, but having something better than 640x480 might inspire me to)

Feature Canon G10 Panasonic LX3 Angst
Lens 28-140mm f/2.8-4.5 5x Zoom 24-60mm f/2.0-2.8 2.5x Zoom I keep on coming back to the lens quality of the LX3, which from all accounts is absolutely fantastic, and best of all, fast.
Manual Controls Very sexy manual dials on top Some dials, other stuff still in the menus (but hotkeys are assignable). I really like the look and rangefinder feel of the dials on the G10.
Physical Glitches Has a lenscap on a chord Built in lens cover A silly thing, but my wife has the Canon S1 which has the lens cap on-a-string and it sucks to have to deal with.
Megapixels 14mp 10mp Higher MP = more croppabilty, but also means less image quality sometimes
High(er) ISO Preforms well at base ISO, munges image at higher ISO, losing any megapixel advantage Appears to be quasi-usable to 1600 ISO I know that higher ISO use on a P&S isn't really reasonable, but while the G10 beats the LX3 at base ISO, that the advantage appears to be gone by ISO400 or so is bad :( While the image stabilization would deal with a lot of this, the LX3s faster lens is attractive here as well, as I invariably will always end up needing higher ISO.
Viewfinder Has one (but is crappy for coverage) None (optional expensive one available) I do like the idea of a viewfinder, for that rangefinder feel. Not sure if it's 100% needed though. Also the DPR review notes that use of the G10 viewfinder just smudges the LCD more.
Image Notes Has issues with white balance I'd probably use RAW most of the time, but it would be nice to export right out of the camera sometimes. Not sure how much of an issue this really is though.

So you can see my frustration. The LX3 seems to have the edge on image quality (lens, noise) but the G10 has the edge with ergonomics (dials, viewfinder). There are more than a couple of G10 owning bloggers who are condemning the DPReview review as bullocks, and at least one that claims that the G10 can rival a medium format digital (though note he's only using ISO80). I tend to discount these and take the DPReview opinion a bit more seriously though as their silly formalized testing is there to compare cameras in a controlled condition, regardless of how well it performs for you.

So is a nicer lens and slightly higher ISO performance worth it over good(er) ergonomics? The whole idea of me getting this camera is to go out and shoot with it, so I'd almost lean towards the G10's ergonomics, but I'm worried that the pictures I'll now be taking will end up being disappointing when downloaded to the camera.

That said I also know that I'll be perfectly happy with either and both will be out of date and a model or two out to pasture before whatever I end up buying has even been unwrapped :)

Any opinions from folks out there? Thoughts? Help on making a decision for myself :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pentax Flash Options

Just found this page via the Pentax Forums at DPReview. It has a very nice roundup of the Pentax options for flashes from Pentax and third party manufacturers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Summer Classic Cars

So I realize I've been completely slacking in my photography and posting lately (or still, depending on how you look at it), so when I opened up the new version of Lightroom and noticed I had a batch of shots from the Father's Day Classic Car Show in my quick collection, I figured I'd finish a bit of processing and post them, and get back in a roll.

Dodge Viper Classic T-Bird Classic Car Classic Fin
Hood Ornament

This was done on a bright summer day, so the colors are fairly accurate I believe. The only two images that got much attention are the purple fin (which got a hit of +100 clarity) and the red hood (which got a -60 clarity via a local adjustment on the the red hood to smooth out a few little scratches and polishing marks, like a beauty filter for cars).

As a side note, the new Camera RAW DNG profiles support the K20D very nicely (see how I worked in some actual K20D news?). I haven't had a chance to do any extensive testing, or comparisons to see how colors and skin tones react, so I guess that's what I can write about next.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An Evening with Joe McNally

[Cross posted from my blog]
So thanks to a tip from a friend taking a course from him, I found out that The Joe McNally is in Vancouver and was doing a lecture downtown. Being that I've read and pimped his book before, and he's done picture for oodles of places, including National Geographic, it was a pretty good idea to give it a listen, especially a the low low price of $45.

The talk included a session of talking and then some lighting setup and demo. The talk itself wasn't completely new material to anyone who has read The Moment It Clicks or seen his Authors@Google talk. Basically he's a great talker, funny, and with good stories and better pictures.

The lighting setup was also very cool, starting with a straight on camera flash and a model (a dancer) and moving to a softbox, hair light, background light, eye "zapper", and shoot-through diffuser all configured from his D3 with some magic do-everything flash configuration system, it was very cool to see the quality of pics on the screen change with each iteration and go from "ugh" to "wow" and then to "holy balls wow".

Course now it's a matter of getting my ass off the couch and to taking pictures so when the course is offered next year I'm worthy of taking it :)