Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Photo Of The Day - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winged Heart - Tehachapi, California
Taken on 1/19/2012 at 3:35 pm.
Shutter 1/200, f11, ISO 200, Pentax K-x DSLR, 90mm.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Photo Of The Day - Monday, January 30, 2012

Broken Guardrail - Tehachapi, California
Taken on 1/19/2012 at 3:23 pm.
Shutter 1/160, f10, ISO 200, Pentax K-x DSLR, 90mm.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review: Nikon Coolpix S8100

I had a lengthy in-depth review all typed out, but then I realized that most of what I had said was unimportant. So I deleted it and started over.
Stargazer Curves - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
Most product reviews give a lot of attention to things that don't matter and what is truly important is often ignored.

A Closer Look

The Nikon Coolpix S8100 is a pocket digital point-and-shoot camera designed for someone who knows nothing about photography. It's meant to be used in Automatic Mode or one of the (also automatic) Scene Modes. There are some manual controls if you dig through the menus, but not many. And those manual controls are not always available.
Country Tree In January - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
The S8100 has the excellent Expeed C2 software built-in. It has 12.1 megapixels on a 1/2.3 back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which is pretty good. The Nikkor 30-300mm (equivalent) lens is very sharp and can focus very close. It includes a large and bright 3" rear screen with 921,000 dots. The camera can capture up to five frames at 10 frames-per-second. Nikon even included 1080p HD video.
Kodak 35mm Camera - Hesperia, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
I'm not going to talk about the size, weight, ergonomics, style and build-feel. All pocket digital point-and-shoot camera are similar (a rectangle about the size of 5-year-old cell-phone) and will at least be adequate. Besides, those things are secondary to image quality. Image quality is always more important than the way the camera looks or feels. However, if you are worried about those things, simply know that the S8100 is one of the better cameras in this regard.

Function

The S8100 does a great job most of the time selecting the correct aperture, shutter speed and ISO. If a camera is automatic, it has to get those things right or it's junk. The S8100 gets it right. The camera does like to over expose a little, but that is typical of point-and-shoot cameras. Besides, it's easy to manually adjust.
White Rose - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
The default setting for ISO is Auto, which chooses between ISO 160 and ISO 800. Because of the sensor and the software, the camera has very little noise at those ISOs (including 800). If you apply a little noise-reduction in post-processing to the ISO 800 photographs, there is no significant difference between images taken with ISO 800 and images taken with ISO 400 without a close, side-by-side study (and even then it's tough to tell). Even so, the camera will give priority to the lowest ISO unless it detects camera-shake (just as long as the anti-shake features are enabled). If the camera detects shake, it will increase the ISO so that it can get a faster shutter speed.
Burger Spot - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
In certain functions you can manually set the ISO, which includes ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 (two ISOs that are not available in Auto-ISO). This is helpful when using the camera in low-light situations. There is a significant jump in noise between ISO 800 and ISO 1600, but ISO 1600 is quite usable. ISO 3200 is very noisy and I would not choose it unless I purposely wanted lots of noise, or unless the print would not be larger than 5" x 7". Typically, ISO 3200 will look better as a black-and-white image than color.
Water Heater and Valve - Tehachapi, California
This is an example of ISO 3200.
White Balance can be set manually in some functions, otherwise it's selected automatically by the camera. Thankfully, the auto-white-balance does a great job, so manually adjusting the white balance isn't necessary most of the time. One good white balance feature is Preset Manual, which allows you to use a gray card to accurately adjust the white balance to whatever it needs to be.
Waiting Under The Light - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100
The camera does include many different scene selections, and if you know what it does in those scene modes, you can manipulate the camera in order to get the images you want. So while you can't pick the specific aperture or shutter speed, you could pick a scene mode that gives you basically what you need.
Vent Hose - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a S8100.
Again, this camera wasn't designed for you. But any camera can be used to create great photographs, including the S8100. You have to figure out how to force the camera to capture the image the way you want it. It doesn't take long to figure the camera out, but you have to think about it differently than your typical DSLR.

Actual Image Quality

There are several factors that will determine image quality in digital photography. Most important of those (besides the skill of the photographer, which is most important) are lens, sensor, and software.
House In The Foothills - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
For $300 or less, it would be difficult to find a camera that has a better lens, sensor and software combination than the S8100. The Canon S95 is comparable and is another option you could consider. I purchased the Nikon S8100 on sale for $150, and I've never seen the S95 for less than $225. If you can find the S8100 for $150, I don't think there is a better digital camera on the market for that price.
California Golden Hills - Caliente, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
Back to image quality. Most reviews do certain "tests" that don't really tell you anything. How the camera performs when doing actual photography is the real test. For the point-and-shoot, what you really want to know is will other people be able to tell that you didn't use your DSLR?
Cows On Hill - Caliente, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
With the S8100, unless you are making large prints, I really doubt anyone would be able to tell that you didn't use your DSLR. As long as your prints are 11" x 14" (or 11" x 17") or smaller--or unless you did significant cropping--it would be incredibly difficult to tell you used a "lesser" camera.

Who Is This Camera For?

The Nikon S8100 is for someone who knows nothing about photography but wants good results. That means this camera could be a good choice for you if you will not be the only one using it.
Roof Peaks #1 - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
If you are in the market for a digital point-and-shoot to supplement you DSLR, are on a tight budget, and won't be the only one using the camera--the S8100 is the obvious choice. Your research could end right here.
Roof Lines And Shapes - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
 However, if you have a larger budget and won't be sharing the camera, there are many other options to consider (including the Canon S95 mentioned earlier). Even so, if you can find the S8100 for a good price, it would be tough to find a better value.
Tree Trunk - Tehachapi, California
Taken with a Nikon S8100.
 Besides, your camera doesn't matter, anyway.

Thought Of The Day: Febraury 2012 Arizona Highways Magazine

The latest issue of Arizona Highways magazine is a celebration of Arizona's 100 year anniversary. The bulk of content is a look at Arizona's statehood through photographs. It's certainly interesting!

If you are not familiar with Arizona Highways magazine, it has a long history of quality production and amazing photographs. Heck, Ansel Adams was a contributing photographer several times.

If you like Arizona, modern history, or photography, the February issue is worth the $4 stand price and then some. Check it out!

Loosely related, here are some photographs of an old section of Highway 80 in Arizona (click the link), constructed in the very early 1920's.

Photo Of The Day - Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thistle Mirror - Tehachapi, California
Taken on 1/19/2012 at 3:30 pm.
Shutter 1/80, f14, ISO 200, Pentax K-x DSLR, 90mm.
This toy mirror was found on the ground underneath the thistles.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Photo Of The Day - Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vent Hose - Tehachapi, California
Taken on 1/20/2012 at 4:54 pm.
Shutter 1/33, f3.5, ISO 160, Nikon S8100, 30mm (equivalent).


Friday, January 27, 2012

Thought Of The Day: Changes To The Blog

It's almost four weeks into 2012, and it's time for change.

I've already made several changes to the Blog over the last few days. I think it looks cleaner, but more importantly, it functions better.

One big (pun intended) improvement is that I can now display images larger in my posts. The visual impact of this will be immediate. Who wants to see images as tiny rectangles?

Another change coming in March is Photo Of The Day will become Photograph Of The Week. First, it's difficult to keep up. Second, only the best photographs will get picked, so there shouldn't be any good-but-not-great selections (or, a couple times, ok-not-great-or-even-good-but-this-is-all-I-have). Third, this will free up time to attend to other aspects of the Blog. I think this will be a positive change.

I started this Blog in March of last year, and it has been an interesting ride and certainly a learning experience. Moving forward, I expect there will be more to learn, more to experience--it should certainly be interesting.

Photo Of The Day - Friday, January 27, 2012


Barbed Wire and Fence Post - Tehachapi, California
Taken on 1/20/2012 at 3:18 pm.
Shutter 1/210, f3.5, ISO 160, Nikon S8100, 30mm (equivalent).



Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tehachapi Hills

The Tehachapi Mountains are very interesting. On the east side of the range, they start out as desert, turning into grass with prairie valleys near 4,000 in elevation', at about 4,500' oak trees appear everywhere, and about 6,000' oak gives way to pine. The highest peak is 7,981'.

On the west side of the Tehachapis, which is where the majority of these photographs were taken, tall grass hills are dotted with oak trees starting at about 1,500' in elevation. At about 3,500' pine trees begin to appear, and by 5,500' the majority of the trees are pine.

While the mountain range is not as tall as other nearby mountains, it is nonetheless rugged and varied.

These photographs were taken on January 20th using both a Nikon S8100 and Pentax K-x, but mostly the S8100.

California Golden Hills - Caliente, California
Cows On Hill - Caliente, California
Two Cows - Caliente, California
Layered Hills - Caliente, California
Tehachapi Mountains - Caliente, California
The distant ridge at the top-right is part of the Sierra Nevadas.
Lonely Dirt Road - Caliente, California
Hills, Grass, Trees - Tehachapi, California
BNSF In The Mountains - Caliente, California


Photo Of The Day - Thursday, January 26, 2012

Southern Sierras at Sundown - Bodfish, California
Taken on 1/16/2012 at 4:11 pm.
Shutter 1/200, f13, ISO 200, Pentax K-x DSLR, 75mm.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How To Tone Black & White Photographs

Years ago when I printed my own black and white images, I used a chemical called sepia to tone the photographs. Using sepia gave the images a warmer tone. The longer I kept the prints in the chemical, the warmer they became.

Black and white without being toned is often "cold" looking. Sometimes that is what you want. Sometimes it is not.

Let's take a look at some options to create a toned black and white image from a digital camera using Paint.NET. What is discussed here can also be applied in other photo editing softwares. I like Paint.NET because it does what I need it to and because it is free.

Here is the original image, taken with a Pentax K-x DSLR:


This color version is not bad, but I think it would look better as a black and white. The color aspect of the image is unimportant, and black and white gives the image more drama and a fine-art feel.


This is a straight conversion to black and white (click "Adjustments" then "Black and White"). The "coolness" of the untoned image looks pretty good. But let's look at what some toning does.


In the above image, I adjusted the color curves (click "Adjustments", then "Curves", then in the drop-down list that says "Luminosity" click "RGB"). Unclick "Green" and "Blue" so only "Red" is selected. Adjust the red curve upward to add red (think warmth) to the image--but use caution, because a little goes a long ways. Then unselect "Red" and select "Blue". Adjust the blue curve downward to subtract blue (think cool) from the image--again, use caution. The exact amount you adjust the curves will be different with each image. Don't be afraid to experiment. Another tip is to adjust the color curves more in the lighter greys (top right of the RGB graph) than in the darker greys (bottom left of the RGB graph).


Another option is to simply use the "Sepia" option (found at the bottom of the "Adjustments" drop-down list). That is how I created the above image. More often than not, I find it to be too red.


I used the color curves to remove some red and add some blue to the sepia-toned image.


The above image was a bit more complex to create. First, I reduced the contrast by 30 (click on "Adjustments", then "Brightness/Contrast", then set contrast at "-30"). I then used the "Soften Portrait" feature to tone the image (click "Effects", then "Photo", then "Soften Portrait"). Set "Softness" to "0" (slider bar all the way left), "Lighting" can be set anywhere from +20 to -20 (for the above photograph I used "0"), and "Warmth" can also be set anywhere from 0 to +20 (I used +14).


Again, if that is too warm, you can use color curves to remove some red and add some blue.

The tone of each black and white image should be decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on exactly how you want the image to look. You should decide if it should have a "cooler" or "warmer" feel, and make the necessary adjustments.


Thought Of The Day: Be Prepared

An alternate title to this could be "Don't Be An Idiot Like Me."

I drove 15 minutes up the road to photograph something. I quickly located what I wanted to photograph and the lighting was perfect. I got my Pentax K-x DSLR set, composed the image in the viewfinder and pressed the shutter-release-button.

Click.

I looked at the LCD screen and, to my disbelief, this message was displayed:

No Card In The Camera.

What?!

I knew right away that the memory card was in the computer at home. I searched the camera bag for the spare SD card, but it wasn't there.

And I only brought one camera.

There was not enough time to get the memory card and return before the lighting disappeared. I was out of luck.

The lesson to be learned from my mistake is to always be prepared. Have a camera with you where ever you go--two cameras if you know you will be photographing. Double check to make sure you have film or memory cards. Be sure the camera is charged or you have spare batteries.

A little extra attention before you depart can save you from a lot of frustration at your destination.

Abandoned Freight Warehouse

These photographs were taken on January 18th of an abandoned warehouse in Tehachapi, California. It may have been used to transfer apples from trucks to railroad cars. I used a Nikon S8100.

Roof Peaks #1 - Tehachapi, California
Roof Peaks #2 - Tehachapi, California
Wood Window - Tehachapi, California
Hi Valley Orchards - Tehachapi, California
Red Apple - Tehachapi, California
Green Wood Grain - Tehachapi, California
Broken Wall - Tehachapi, California
Roof Lines and Shapes - Tehachapi, California


Tehachapi Mountain Park

These photographs were taken at the Tehachapi Mountain Park just outside of Tehachapi, California on January 18th. I used a Nikon S8100.

Pine Trees - Tehachapi, California
Dirt Road - Tehachapi, California
Campsites Sign - Tehachapi, California
I took this through a chain to blur the edges of the image.
Not Trees - Tehachapi, California
The sign actually said "Do not cut trees."
Loop and Cable - Tehachapi, California
Tree Trunk - Tehachapi, California
Twisted Tree #1 - Tehachapi, California
Twisted Tree #2 - Tehachapi, California
Twisted Tree #3 - Tehachapi, California