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Raw processing: it's harder than it looks. I was thrilled to see that Adobe has released Adobe Camera Raw 5.6, Lightroom 2.6 Release Candidates that supports 19 new Raw profiles, including for the Canon PowerShot S90. I like using the Bridge/ACR workflow for quick turnaround jobs, and being able to bring the S90 into that flow is terrific news.

Comparison of an S90 raw file processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (left) and ACR 5.6 RC (right). The Bridge preview (middle) shows just how much work the two processors do before you ever move a slider. You can see full size versions on the Digital Story Flickr page. (Click to enlarge).

But Raw processing often includes more than just getting the exposure and color right. In the case of the S90, it also has to correct for distortion and handle other important aspects of making the picture look good. I had already processed Raw files using Canon's own Digital Photo Professional, and the images shaped up nicely. How would the Adobe ACR 5.6 Release Candidate stack up?

As it turns out, quite well. I've included an S90 shot here that was captured at the wide end of the lens (7.5 mm, or about 35mm in standard terms). There was quite a bit of distortion as you can see in the uncorrected version that I previewed in Bridge (middle). But when I opened the picture in ACR 5.6 RC (right), you can see that much of the distortion was corrected. Wow! I expected DPP to do that (left), but was crossing my fingers that ACR was up to the task as well. And it is.

You can see bigger versions of all three images on the Digital Story Flickr page. You'll notice that ACR does interpret the file differently than DPP. I used the "Standard" profile for DPP, and the "Camera Standard" profile in ACR. I tried to add the same amount of sharpening in ACR that DPP automatically adds, but didn't make any other adjustments in either application. I then took a high resolution, 100 percent, screenshot of each of the processed previews.

I like the interpretations by both DPP and ACR. I give the initial processing nod to DPP, but have better tools for adjustment in ACR. Compare either to the preview in Bridge, and you'll see just how excellent they both are.

For my own work, I'll probably use ACR 5.6 or Lightroom 2.6 most of the time for the Canon S90. But for certain images, I won't hesitate to open them up in Digital Photo Professional to see how Canon renders the file. Options are good, and we have two excellent ones here.

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I just got a fairly comprehensive press release from Adobe about their Camera Raw 5.6 and Lightroom 2.6 release candidates. I'm quite interested in these because they provide Raw support for a few of the cameras I've been writing about lately, namely the Canon S90 and Olympus E-P2. So Here's the scoop from Adobe.

Photoshop Camera Raw 5.6, Lightroom 2.6 and DNG Converter 5.6 Release Candidates, available for immediate download on Adobe Labs. The term 'release candidate' means this update is well tested but would benefit from additional community testing to provide the highest quality experience for customers working on a variety of hardware and software configurations.

The updates add raw file support for 19 new popular camera models, including the Canon EOS 7D and Nikon D3s, with additional DNG support added for the Leica M9 camera model. A full list of the newly supported cameras is below. The Release Candidates also provide a fix for an issue affecting PowerPC customers using the final Lightroom 2.5 and Camera Raw 5.5 updates on the Mac. The issue, introduced in the demosaic change to address sensors with unequal green response, has the potential to create artifacts in the highlight area while using the Highlight Recovery tool in raw files from Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and various medium format digital camera backs.

The Lightroom 2.6 Release Candidate is available as a free download for existing Lightroom 2 customers, and the Photoshop Camera Raw 5.6 Release Candidate is available as a free download for existing customers of Photoshop CS4. The DNG Converter 5.6 Release Candidate is also available as a free download for all customers. Click here for more information and to test out the updates: Feedback can be provided on the Adobe User to User forum:

Newly Supported Camera Models
Canon EOS 7D
Canon PowerShot G11
Canon PowerShot S90
Leaf Aptus II 5
Mamiya DM22, DM28, DM33, DM56, M18, M22, M31
Nikon D3s
Olympus E-P2
Pentax K-x
Panasonic FZ38
Sigma DP1s
Sony A500
Sony A550
Sony A850

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Vanishing Icon: The Phone Booth

While I was parked at a county gas station, I noticed this pair of classic phone booths at the edge of the asphalt. It dawned on me that in just a few years we probably won't see many of these icons. Very few are operable any more, and it just seems like a matter of time before they're removed once and for all.

As a kid, phone booths represented mobility. You could place a call from anywhere to anywhere if you had change in your pocket. They were Superman's changing room, and the temporary offices for anyone who had to make a connection.

But the rise of cell phones have taken their toll on phone booths. Glad I had a camera with me when I spotted these.

"Old Phone Booth" captured with a Canon S90 in Aperture Priority mode at f/5.6 at 1/40th, ISO 80. Raw file processed in Canon DPP. Click on image to enlarge.

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Most images captured before 1999 were recorded on film. For many photographers, amateurs and pros alike, that means that unless those pictures are digitized and incorporated into our existing workflows, they are probably not getting the attention they deserve. In this podcast, I cover what I believe is the easiest way to move large quantities of pictures from analog to digital.

The research and testing for this podcast was orginally conducted for my Macworld article titled, Outsource your photo scanning projects. After you listen to today's show, I encourage you to read the article if you're considering embarking upon this type of project. Not only do I include lots of details that you'll find useful, many readers have also contributed ideas based on their experiences.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (25 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Wrinkles is the Nov. 2009 Photo Assignment. Keep in mind that side lighting increases texture and front lighting hides it. So you should be thinking angled lighting for this one. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Nov. 30, 2009.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

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The Canon PowerShot S90 and the Olympus E-P2 are two of the more tantalizing portable cameras in the news right now. The S90 is a sophisticated compact that slides in your shirt pocket, and the E-P2 is a larger micro four thirds system camera that offers interchangeable lenses, electronic flashes, and even two different accessory viewfinders. It has a bigger 12.3-megapixel, four thirds sized image sensor compared to the S90's 10 megapixel, 1/1.7-inch CCD. But these two cameras do have one thing in common, they both preform admirably in low light.

I know this because I've tested each individually. Back in June, I tested the Olympus E-P1 for image noise, and was happily surprised that it performed great up to ISO 1600, and decently up to 3200. Since then, I've done plenty of real world street shooting with the E-P1, and have been happy with the results.

I've also been testing the Canon S90. Just last week I pitted it against a Canon G9, and the S90 blew it out of the water.

So, how would the pixels shake out if we compared the $430 Canon S90 against the more expensive Olympus E-P2? Well, that's exactly what I did with this test. You can see the full sized test shots at ISO 100, 400, 1600, and 3200 on the TDS Flickr site. I've included a lower resolution image here too for reference. But to really see the differences, you need to look at the full sized shots on Flickr.

The bottom line? The Canon S90 put up an excellent fight. At ISO 100, it's hard to tell much of a difference between the two cameras. By ISO 400, they are still going toe to toe. But at ISO 1600, the E-P2 begins to pull away from the S90. And the difference becomes even greater at ISO 3200. The biggest advantage I see at 1600 and 3200 for the E-P2 is that it retains more image detail than the S90. My guess is, that by 1600, the S90's noise reduction system is beginning to take its toll on sharpness.

The test itself was very simple. I tripod mounted both cameras and put them in Programmed Exposure mode with Auto White Balance. I made not other adjustments other than moving the ISO setting from 100 to 3200 in full stop increments. I then opened each image in Photoshop at 100 percent and positioned the pairs side by side. I did not apply any image editing to the shots.

For small sensor cameras, I think both look great. And even though there are lots of feature differences between the two models, one thing we know for sure: each can handle itself just fine when the lights go down.

More Articles About the Canon S90 and Olympus E-P1 and E-P2

Did Canon Really Improve Image Noise with the PowerShot S90?

"Compacts for Serious Shooters" - Digital Photography Podcast 201

Is the Canon S90 the New G11?

Five Lesser Know (but very cool) Features on the Canon S90

Olympus E-P2 Black Body and Electronic Viewfinder

Street Shooting Technique with the Compact Olympus E-P1

HD Video Capture with Olympus E-P1

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I find the Canon PowerShot S90 one of the most interesting compact cameras available today. No doubt you've heard about some of its most popular features: records in Raw, sports a programmable click-stop Control Ring, and uses the same sensor and image processing as the Canon G11. But as I've worked with this camera, I've discovered a number of more subtle features that I think are noteworthy, and that you might appreciate.


Versatile Erase Options - When you shoot in Raw+Jpeg, as I often do, you have three erase options when you press the trashcan button: Raw only, Jpeg only, or Raw+Jpeg. I think it's so intelligent having complete control over what you delete.

Semi Auto White Balance - In auto white balance, you have the option or rotating the Control Ring to tweak the white balance in the blue or red direction. If you hit the Display button, you can also adjust green and magenta too. This is much more precise than using the presets. And it makes Auto White Balance truly useful, because it is now an intelligent starting point instead of the final destination.


Smart Self Timer - In the standard self timer mode, I can set how long I want the timer to run (between 1-30 seconds in 1 second increments) and for how many shots (between 1-10). So if I want a 5 second delay for 4 continuous shots, it's not a problem. Why haven't we always had this?

Manual Flash Output - When you shoot in Manual exposure mode, the flash exposure compensation scale changes from the standard + and - to a flash output control. You can manually set the flash to 1/3, 2/3, or full power. Works great! It's also more intuitive than flash exposure compensation.


Low Light Shooting on Mode Dial - The S90 performs admirably well in low light (see my ISO tests for more information), and you have lots of exposure controls to choose from. But if you want to quickly switch to low light shooting, just choose the candle icon on the Mode Dial. This enables all of the S90's low light functionality with a single, easy-to-get-to setting. The downside, it only records in Jpeg in this mode.

So how do I configure this camera for my every day shooting? After trying lots of combinations, my favorite way to work is to set the mode dial in Aperture Priority (AV); set the Control Ring to Step Zoom so I can click stop between 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105mm focal lengths, then adjust the f/stop with the Control Dial on the back of the camera. I set the Shortcut button to enable the Exposure Lock. With this set up, I feel like I'm shooting with DSLR that just happens to be very, very small.

More Articles About the Canon S90

Did Canon Really Improve Image Noise with the PowerShot S90?

"Compacts for Serious Shooters" - Digital Photography Podcast 201

Is the Canon S90 the New G11?

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If you want to take advantage of iPhoto's latest capabilities, but don't want to commit your master images to its internal database, there is a way. You can set up a referenced library scenario that allows you the freedom to switch among any non-destructive photo manager -- such as Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, and Adobe Bridge -- for the same set of original images. And none of them will alter your originals in any way. It's not an approach for the average consumer. But photographers desiring lots of flexibility might be interested.

In my latest Macworld article, Store photos outside of iPhoto's library, I show you how to set up a catalog of master images on a separate hard drive, then "point" iPhoto to them. Instead of ingesting your masters into its internal database, iPhoto notes their location, then refers to them when you need to work.

There are lots of insightful comments that accompany the article, and I encourage you to read them all. One very important point that comes up in the ensuing discussion is that you should test this method of image management first before committing your entire library to it. But for certain people, this approach allows you to play with new iPhoto features such as geotagging and face recognition, while still having the flexibility to use other applications with that same set of images.

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In the article, The Conversation Has Shifted from Megapixels to Image Noise, I observed that we've moved on, at least temporarily, from the megapixel wars. Case in point with my own cameras. The Canon G9 that I reviewed on Oct. 2, 2007 squeezed 12.1 megapixels on to a 1/1.7 inch CCD sensor and processed the information with a DIGIC 3 processor. Now, two years later, both the Canon G11 and S90 have upgraded to DIGIC 4 processors, but only 10 megapixels on the same sensor. Why step backwards? Well, in part because we asked Canon to. Our theory was that if you cram fewer photosites on to the same sized CCD, you'd generate less heat, and therefore have less image noise at higher ISO settings.

Improvement with the S90? You betcha! Side-by-side comparison of ISO 1600 shots with the Canon S90 and two year old G9. Even in these smaller shots (click on image to enlarge) you can see a big difference. Go to the full-sized comparisons to see more detail.

Were we right? I decided to run a comparison between the Canon G9 (a camera near and dear to my heart) against the new PowerShot S90. I mounted each camera on a tripod, set the aperture to 5.6, and took shots of the same subject in the same lighting at ISOs 80, 400, 800, and 1600. I then published full sized comparisons that you can view at 100 percent and judge for yourself. No image editing of any kind for these shots. They were high quality Jpegs that I spliced together in Photoshop, and then left it at that.

My conclusion? No contest. The S90 is clearly the better camera at ISO 400 and above. In this case, Canon found a way to make our theory correct. Take a look at the posted samples and decide for yourself.

As for me... well, I'm impressed with the image improvements in the Canon PowerShot S90. There are plenty of other features I like too, and I'll touch on those in a subsequent post.

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Tutorial for Creating Your Own 3D Images


I just read a short, but informative tutorial titled, How to Create 3D Images, where Mark Evans encourages you to hang on to those 3D glasses you used at the movie theater. Why? Well, you can quickly create your own 3D pictures in Photoshop and put those wonky glasses to use. Take a peek... it's easy.

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For the last few years, many of us photographers have been watching the megapixel wars and wondering when camera manufacturers would call a cease fire. Yes, resolution is great. But not to the point where it degrades image quality, especially when working in low light.

Well, the cease fire is here. Nikon has remained conservative on the resolution in its DSLR line, focusing on image quality, and has had great success in 2009. Olympus has stuck with its 12 megapixel ceiling and produced the high ISO performing E-P1 and E-P2. But the real shocker for me was when Canon actually stepped back on resolution for the PowerShot G11. The previous model, G10, sported a 1/1.7-inch CCD that provided 14.7-megapixels of resolution. The new G11 has dropped the megapixels to 10.4 on the same size sensor. All of this as part of an overall effort to improve image quality, especially at higher ISO settings such as 400, 800, and even 1600.

How much noise is too much? This shot at Grand Central Station was captured with an Olympus E-P1 at ISO 3200. Would I have been able to get the same shot with a flash? You can see the entire set on the TDS Flickr page.

In real world use, this means that we can turn off the flash and shoot existing light more often without our images being as compromised by image noise. We use that term a lot, image noise, but what is it really?

In the article, Noise: Lose It, Part II on Digital PhotoPro, John Paul Caponigro explains that there are three patterns of noise: random, fixed-pattern, and banding, that has two components -- brightness and color (luminance and chromatic). Much of this is a byproduct of boosting the ISO setting on our cameras. For example, John writes:

"Random noise is most sensitive to ISO setting. Again, digital cameras have one native ISO setting; higher ISO settings artificially boost the signal produced by the sensor and the noise accompanying it. The results? You get a brighter picture from less light and exaggerated noise. Since the pattern is random, it's challenging to separate the noise from the image, especially texture, and even the best software used to reduce it through blurring may compromise image sharpness; how much depends on the level of reduction."

For me personally, image noise isn't always a terrible thing. Sometimes it provides the subtle grit that works with a photo. By the same token, I do want to have some control over how much noise appears in my photographs. And I don't want to spend lots of time in post processing to tame it.

So I'm glad the megapixel wars have given way to the image noise challenge. I think many of the latest cameras are going in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing how things play out up the road.

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