Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Using Focus Tracking with Lock-On

When you are using the camera's autofocus tracking system on a moving subject and something gets between you and the subject, what will your camera do? Will it forget about the subject it was tracking and grab focus on the intruding object, or will it ignore the intruder and keep right on tracking your original subject?

The answer to this question is related to how you have the custom setting called "lock-on" set. Focus tracking with lock-on allows you to select the length of time that your camera will ignore an intruding object that blocks your subject. It is found in the Custom Setting Menu under a Autofocus.

How does it work? Let’s say you are focused on a bird flying past you. As you pan the camera with the bird’s movement, the autofocus system tracks it and keeps it in good focus. As the bird flies by, a road sign briefly interrupts the focus tracking as the bird moves behind it and then re-emerges. How would you feel if the bright, high-contrast road sign grabbed the camera’s attention and you lost tracking on the bird? That would be quite aggravating, wouldn’t it?

Nikon provides Focus tracking with lock-on to prevent this from happening. The “lock-on” portion of this function helps your camera keep its focus on your subject, even if something briefly comes between the camera and subject. The camera locks on to your subject doggedly if this function is enabled. Without Focus tracking with lock-on, any bright object that gets between you and your subject may draw the camera’s attention and cause you to lose focus on the subject.

The camera provides a variable time-out period for the lock-on functionality. Lock-on time-out allows an object that stays between the camera and your subject for a predetermined length of time to attract the camera’s attention. You can adjust the length of this time-out with a time period from Short to Long.

You’ll need to test the time-out length to see which works best for you.  You might start with the factory default Normal and let something get between you and your subject. If you’d like the camera to ignore an intruding subject for a longer time, move the setting toward Long, or for less time, toward Short.

I wouldn’t suggest turning it Off unless you fully understand how it works and do not need focus tracking that locks on to your subject. Following are the screens to configure Focus tracking with lock-on:

Figure 1 – Focus tracking with lock-on configuration

The screens shown above were taken from a Nikon D7000. There is some variance in which Custom Setting Number is used for Focus Tracking with Lock-On. Where the D7000 uses Custom Setting a3, the Nikon D300, D300S, D700, D2X, D3, D3S, and D3X uses Custom Setting a4. The lower end Nikons have a form of this function but you have no control over the settings.

With the variable timeout period (figure 1, screen 3) you can fine-tune how you want Focus tracking with lock-on to work. The camera can ignore an intruding subject for up to several seconds.

With Single-point AF, the camera will start the lock-on time-out as soon as the single AF point is unable to detect the subject.

With Dynamic-area AF or Auto-area AF and Focus tracking with lock-on enabled, I was amused at how adamant the camera was about staying with the current subject. I’d focus on a map on the wall and then cover most of the focusing points with the user’s manual. As long as I allowed at least one or two AF points to remain uncovered so it could see the map, the focus did not switch to the manual. I could just hear the camera muttering, “Hah, you can’t fool me. I can still see a little edge of that map there, so I’m not changing focus!”

Only when I stuck the camera's manual completely in front of the lens, covering all the AF points, did the camera decide to start timing the Focus tracking with lock-on time-out. After a few seconds, the camera would give up on the map and focus on the manual instead.

Try this yourself! It’s quite fun and will teach you something about the power of your camera’s AF system.  It will also let you see how long each setting causes the timeout to last, so that you can choose your favorite.

Does Lock-On Cause Autofocus to Slow Down?

Focus tracking with lock-on is an autofocus algorithm that allows your camera to maintain focus on a subject and ignore anything that comes between the camera and the subject for a period of time. It will “lock-on” that subject and track where it is on the array of AF points in the Viewfinder. Focus tracking with lock-on is controlled by configuring Custom setting a3 or a4 (per camera type) to a duration period or to Off.

Some misunderstanding surrounds this technology. Since it is designed to cause the autofocus to hesitate for a variable time period before seeking a new subject, it may make the camera seem sluggish to some users.

But, this “sluggishness” is really a feature designed to keep you from losing your subject’s tracked focus. Once the camera locks on to a subject’s area of focus, it tries its best to stay with that subject even if it briefly loses the subject. This keeps the lens from racking in and out and searching for a new subject as soon as the previous subject is no longer under an AF point.

It also causes the camera to ignore other higher-contrast or closer subjects while it follows your original subject. You will have to judge the usefulness of this technology for yourself. I suggest that you go to some event, or down to the lake, and track moving objects with and without lock-on enabled. Your style of photography has a strong bearing on how you’ll use—or whether you’ll use—Focus tracking with lock-on.

Focus tracking with lock-on has little to do with how well the camera focuses. Instead, it is concerned with what it is focused on. There are several good reasons to leave Focus tracking with lock-on enabled in your camera.

If Focus tracking with lock-on is set to Off, Dynamic-area AF and Auto-area AF will instantly react to something coming between your subject and the camera. When you enable Focus tracking with lock-on, the camera will ignore anything that briefly gets between you and your subject. If you turn it off, your camera will happily switch focus to a closer subject even if it only appears in the frame for a moment. A good example of this is when you are tracking a moving subject and just as you are about to snap the picture, a closer or brighter object enters the edge of the frame and is picked up by an outside sensor. The camera may instantly switch focus to the intruding subject.

If you turn off Focus tracking with lock-on, you’ll have a camera that doesn’t know how to keep its attention on the subject you are trying to photograph if something interferes. When using Dynamic-area AF or Auto-area AF modes, I call turning off Focus tracking with lock-on “focus roulette!”

Configuring Focus tracking with lock-on is not difficult. However, you’ll need to decide just how long you want your camera to lock on to a subject before it decides that the subject is no longer available.

Should I Use Focus Tracking with Lock-On?

I leave Focus tracking with lock-on enabled at all times. When I’m tracking a moving subject, I don’t want my camera to be distracted by every bright object that gets in between me and the subject. Nikon gives us variable focus lock time-outs so we can change how long the camera will keep seeking the old subject, when we switch to a new one. I suggest you play around with this function until you fully understand how it works. Watch how long the camera stays locked on one subject’s area before an intruding object grabs its attention. This is one of those functions that people either love or hate. Personally, I find it quite useful for my type of photography. Try it and see what it does for you.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Understanding Nikon's Autofocus, AF-Area, and Release Modes

The following article is presented in a generic way for most newer Nikon DSLR users. Some mode names may vary with older Nikons. This type of information is found in my Mastering the Nikon DSLR series books on—only the books have full color graphics, step-by-step mode setup information, and much deeper detail. Please consider buying whichever of my books (or eBooks) support your Nikon. I try very hard to make things understandable for my readers. See if you agree:

Autofocus and release modes are active settings that you’ll deal with each time you use your camera. Unlike adjusting settings in the menus, which you’ll do from time to time, you’ll use autofocus and release modes every time you make an image or movie.

To take pictures and make movies you need to be very familiar with these settings, so this is a very important chapter for mastery of your Nikon. Grab your camera and let’s get started!

Nikon DSLRs have two types of autofocus built in, with different parts of the camera controlling AF in different shooting modes. Taking pictures through the Viewfinder has one type of autofocus, and shooting a picture or movie using Live View has a different type. They are as follows:

  • TTL phase detection autofocus – Through-the-lens (TTL) phase detection autofocus uses the Multi-CAM autofocus module with all AF points in a grid-like array in the central area of the Viewfinder. This type of AF is known simply as phase-detection AF. It is a very fast type of autofocus and is used by the camera only when you are taking pictures through the Viewfinder.
  • Focal plane contrast AF – Focal plane contrast AF uses pixel-level contrast detection directly from the camera’s imaging sensor. A simple name for this is contrast-detect AF. It can use the entire surface of the imaging sensor to detect contrast between light and dark boundaries to provide autofocus. This is a relatively slow form of autofocus, but it is extremely accurate since it is done at the pixel level. This form of autofocus is used only while shooting in Live View and Movie modes.

Three Mode Groups

There are three specific mode groups that you should fully understand: Autofocus modes, AF-area modes, and Release modes.

Many people get these modes confused and incorrectly apply functions from one mode to a completely different mode. It is a bit confusing at times, but if you read this carefully and try to wrap your head around the different functionalities provided, you’ll have much greater control of your camera later.

The three mode groups for Viewfinder shooting are as follows (may vary with different Nikon DSLRs):

Autofocus modes:

  • Auto-servo AF (AF-A)
  • Single-servo (AF-S)
  • Continuous-servo (AF-C)

AF-area modes:

  • Single-point AF
  • Dynamic-area AF (multiple patterns of AF points)
  • 3D-tracking AF
  • Auto-area AF

Release modes:

  • Single frame (S)
  • Continuous low speed (CL)
  • Continuous high speed (CH)

Note: There are other release modes than the three I've listed above—such as Self-timer, Remote control, Mup, and Quiet mode—however, they are not directly related to using autofocus and shooting rapidly so I won't consider them in this article (they are considered in my books).

What’s the difference between these modes? Think of them like this:

  • Focus modes are how it focuses
  • AF-area modes are where the AF module focuses
  • Release modes control how often a picture is taken

These mode types work together to make a Nikon’s autofocus and subject tracking system one of the world’s best.

Autofocus Modes

The focus modes allow you to control how the autofocus works with static and moving subjects. They allow your camera to lock focus on a subject that is not moving or is moving very slowly. They also allow your camera to follow focus on an actively moving subject. Let’s consider the three servo-based focus modes to see when and how you might use them best.

Auto-Servo AF Mode (AF-A)

Auto-servo AF (AF-A) is an automatic mode that pays attention to your subject’s movement. It is rather simple to use because it senses whether your subject is static or moving.
  • Subject is not moving – If the subject is not moving, the camera automatically uses AF-S mode. In this mode the focus locks on the subject and does not update as long as the subject remains still. However, the focus can unlock if the camera detects subject movement, and it will switch to AF-C mode.
  • Subject is moving – If the subject it moving, the camera automatically sets itself to AF-C mode. It detects the movement across the AF sensors and automatically starts focus tracking the subject.

Single-Servo AF Mode (AF-S)

Single-servo AF (AF-S) works best when your subject is stationary—like a house or landscape. You can use AF-S on slowly moving subjects if you’d like, but you must be careful. The two scenarios listed next may help you decide:
  • Subject is not moving – When you press the Shutter-release button halfway down, the AF module quickly locks focus on your subject and waits for you to fire the shutter. If your subject starts moving and you don’t release pressure on the Shutter-release button to refocus, the focus will be obsolete and useless. When you have focus lock, take the picture quickly. This mode is perfect for stationary subjects or, in some cases, very slowly moving subjects.   
  • Subject is regularly moving – This will require a little more work on your part. Since the AF system locks focus on your subject, if the subject moves even slightly, the focus may no longer be good. You’ll have to lift your finger off of the Shutter-release button and reapply pressure halfway down to refocus. If the subject continues moving, you’ll need to continue releasing and pressing the Shutter-release button halfway down over and over to keep the focus accurate. If your subject never stops moving, is moving erratically, or stops only briefly, AF-S is probably not the best mode to use. In this case, AF-C is better because it never locks focus and the camera is able to track your subject’s movement, keeping it in constant focus.

Continuous-Servo AF Mode (AF-C)

Using Continuous-servo AF (AF-C) is slightly more complex since it is a focus tracking function. The camera looks carefully at whether the subject is moving, and it even reacts differently if the subject is moving from left to right, up and down, or toward and away from you. Read these three scenarios carefully:
  • Subject is not moving – When the subject is standing still, Continuous-servo AF acts a lot like Single-servo AF with the exception that the focus never locks. If your camera moves, you may hear your lens chattering a little as the autofocus motor makes small adjustments in the focus position. Since focus never locks in this mode, you’ll need to be careful that you don’t accidentally move the AF point off of the subject because it may focus on something in the background instead.
  • Subject is moving across the Viewfinder – If your subject moves from left to right, right to left, or up and down in the Viewfinder, you’ll need to keep your AF point on the subject when you are using Single-point AF area mode. If you are using Dynamic-area AF or Auto-area AF modes, your camera can track the subject across a few or all of the 39 AF points.
  • Subject is moving toward or away from the camera – If your subject is coming toward you, another automatic function of the camera kicks in. It is called predictive focus tracking, and it figures out how far the subject will move before the shutter fires. After you’ve pressed the Shutter-release button all the way down, predictive focus tracking moves the lens elements slightly to correspond to where the subject should be when the shutter fires a few milliseconds later. In other words, if the subject is moving toward you, the lens focuses slightly in front of your subject so that the camera has time to move the mirror up and get the shutter blades out of the way. It takes several milliseconds for the camera to respond to a press of the Shutter-release button.

AF-Area Modes

The AF-area modes are designed to let you control how many Viewfinder AF points—the area of focus attention—are in use at any one time. Three of the four modes will track subject movement.

You can use 1 AF point in Single-point AF mode; multiple AF points in Dynamic-area AF mode; and you can even use 3D tracking mode (all AF points), which uses the color of the subject to help track it, keeping it in focus while it moves around. If you don’t want to think about the autofocus area, you can let the camera automatically control the AF-area by using the Auto AF-area mode.

Single-Point AF

This mode uses a single AF point out of the array of all AF points to acquire good focus. As mentioned before, you can control which AF point is used by selecting it with the Multi Selector.

Dynamic-Area AF

This mode is best used when your subject is moving. Instead of a single AF point used alone for autofocus, several sensors surrounding the one you have selected with the Multi Selector are also active. The AF point you can see in the Viewfinder provides the primary autofocus; however, the surrounding points in the pattern you’ve selected are also active (see user's manual for pattern information for your Nikon). If the subject moves and the primary AF point loses its focus, one of the surrounding points will quickly grab the focus.

Using Dynamic-area AF, you can more accurately track and photograph all sorts, sizes, and speeds of moving subjects. The initial focus reaction speed of the AF system is somewhat slower when you use all of the camera's AF points since the camera needs to process a lot more information. Take that into consideration when you are shooting events.

3D-Tracking AF

The mode called 3D-tracking (shown as 3D on the Control panel) adds color-detection ability to the tracking system. The camera will not only track by subject area, it will also remember the color of the subject and use it for tracking.
3D-tracking works like the largest AF-point pattern except that it is more intelligent. Often your subject will be a different color from the background, and the Nikon’s color-based system will provide more accuracy in difficult conditions. Be careful if the subject is a similar color to the background because this may reduce the autofocus tracking accuracy.

3D-tracking is a good mode for things like action sports, air shows, races, etc. It allows the camera to become a color-sensitive, subject-tracking machine. Try it and see if it works for you.

Auto-Area AF

Auto-area AF turns your Nikon into an expensive point-and-shoot camera. Use this mode when you simply have no time to think and would still like to get great images. The AF module decides what the subject is and selects the AF points it thinks will work best.

According to Nikon, if you are using a D or G lens with a newer Nikon, there is a bit of “human recognition technology” built into this mode, similar to the Nikon Coolpix. Since most of us will use Auto-area AF only when we want to shoot for fun, a human subject that is closest to the camera is the most likely subject anyway. Using Auto-area AF, your camera can usually detect a human and help you avoid shots with perfectly focused backgrounds and blurry human subjects.

Release Modes

Nikons have several Release modes, which apply to both the Viewfinder and Live View photography. Whether you place your eye up to the Viewfinder or use the Monitor in LV mode to shoot images, all these modes apply.

Release modes decide how many images can be taken and how fast. In the good-old film days, the following release modes would have been called motor-drive settings since they are concerned with how fast the camera is allowed to take pictures.

Single Frame (S) Release Mode

This is the simplest frame rate since it takes a single picture each time you press the Shutter-release button fully. This is no speed here. This is for those shooting a few frames at a time. Nature shooters often use this mode since they are more concerned with correct depth of field and excellent composition.

Continuous Low Speed (CL) Release Mode

This mode allows you to select a frame rate between one and the maximum number of frames per second (fps) your camera can shoot. The default frame rate from the factory is three fps, which seems about right for most of us. If you want more or less speed, simply open Custom Setting Menu > Custom setting d > CL mode shooting speed and select your favorite frame speed.

Continuous High Speed (CH) Release Mode

This high-speed mode is designed for when you want to go fast! The camera will attempt to capture six frames per second every time you hold down the Shutter-release button.

The internal buffer memory of the camera limits how many frames you can take. When shooting in JPEG mode you may be able to shoot as many as 100 frames in one burst. You can control this maximum for JPEGs only by adjusting Custom Setting Menu > Custom setting d > Max. continuous release.

However, in lossless compressed NEF (RAW) mode you’ll be able to shoot only 10 to 15 frames before the buffer memory is full. You’ll have to wait for the camera to offload images to the memory card before you can shoot another long burst. 


With the controls built into the camera’s body, you’ll be able to select whether the AF module uses one or many of its AF points to find your subject. You’ll also select whether the camera grabs the focus and locks on a static subject or whether it continuously seeks new focus if your subject is moving, and how fast (in frames per second) it captures the images.

My Recommendation: If you are having trouble remembering what all these modes do—join the club! I’ve written multiple books about Nikon cameras and I still get confused about what each mode does. I often refer back to my own books to remember all the details. I have both the print and e-book versions of my books so they are always nearby (I love my Kindle). You’ll become familiar with the modes you use most often, and that is usually sufficient. Try to associate the type of mode with its name, and that will make it easier. Learn the difference between an AF-area mode (focus where), a focus mode (focus how), and a release mode (how often). A Nikon DSLR has amazing power, quality, and flexibility—at the cost of sometimes overwhelming complexity.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Friday, September 23, 2011

Understanding Nikon Picture Controls

Nikon’s Picture Control system—found under the Set Picture Control setting on the Shooting Menu—lets you control how your image appears in several ways. Each control has a specific effect on the image’s appearance. If you've ever shot film, you know that there are distinct looks to each film type. No two films produce color that looks the same.

In today’s digital photography world, Picture Controls give you the ability to impart a specific look to your images. You can use Picture Controls as they are provided from the factory, or you can fine tune Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue.

The cool thing about Picture Controls is that they are shareable. If you tweak a Nikon Picture Control and save it under a name of your choice, you can then share your control with others. Compatible cameras, software, and other devices can use these controls to maintain the look you want from the time you press the Shutter-release button until you print the picture with a program like Nikon Capture NX2.

Here are the Shooting Menu screens used to choose a Picture Control:

Figure 1 - Set Picture Control under the Shooting Menu

You can also modify the currently highlighted control by scrolling to the right before you press the OK button (figure 1, images 2 & 3). This will bring you to the fine-tuning screen. You can adjust the Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue settings by scrolling up or down to select a line and then scrolling right or left (+/-) to change the value of that line item. This is entirely optional.

If you do choose to modify a control, it is not yet a Custom Picture Control because you haven’t saved it under a new name. Instead, it’s merely a modified Nikon Picture Control. To name and save your own Custom Picture Controls you'll use the Shooting Menu selection called Manage Picture Control.

You can select one of the controls and leave the settings at the factory defaults, or you can modify the settings and completely change how the camera captures the image (figure 1, image 3). If you shoot in one of the NEF (RAW) modes, the camera does not apply these settings to the image permanently; it stores them with the image so you can change them during post-processing in your computer. If you shoot JPEG, the camera applies the settings you’ve chosen immediately and permanently. Let’s examine each of the Picture Controls.

Examining Picture Controls in Detail

The following is an overview of what Nikon says about Picture Controls and what I see in images I've taken with the various controls enabled:

SD or Standard 

This is Nikon’s recommendation for getting “balanced” results. They recommend SD for most general situations. Use this if you want a balanced image and don’t want to post-process it. It has what Nikon calls “standard image processing.” The SD control provides what I would call medium saturation, with darker shadows to add contrast. If I were shooting JPEG images in a studio or during an event, I would seriously consider using the SD control. I would compare this setting to Fuji Provia or Kodak Kodachrome 64 slide films.

NL or Neutral

This is best for an image that will be extensively post-processed in a computer. It, too, is a balanced image setting, but it applies minimal camera processing so you’ll have room to do more with the image during post-processing. The NL has less saturation and weaker shadows, so the image will be less contrasty. The effects of the NL and SD controls are harder to see since there’s not a marked difference. However, the NL control will give you a little extra dynamic range in each image due to more open shadows and slightly less saturated colors. If you’ve ever shot with Fuji NPS film or Kodak Portra negative films and liked them, you’ll like this control.

VI or Vivid

This is for those of us who love Fuji Velvia slide film! This setting places emphasis on saturating primary colors for intense imagery. The contrast is higher for striking shadow contrast, and the sharpness is higher, too. If you are shooting JPEGs and want to imitate a saturated transparency film like Velvia, this mode is for you! Plus, the greens and blues are extra strong. That means your nature shots will look saturated and contrasty. Be careful when you are shooting on a high-contrast day, such as in direct sunshine in the summer. If you use the VI control under these conditions, you may find that your images are too high in contrast. It may be better to back off to the SD or NL control when shooting in bright sunshine. You’ll need to experiment with this to see what I mean. On a cloudy or foggy low-contrast day, when the shadows are weak, you may find that the VI control adds a pleasing saturation and contrast to the image.

MC or Monochrome

This allows the black-and-white lovers among us to shoot in toned black-and-white. The MC control basically removes the color by desaturation. It’s still an RGB color image, but the colors have become levels of gray. It does not look the same as black-and-white film, in my opinion. The blacks are not as deep, and the whites are a little muddy. To me, it seems that the MC control is fairly low contrast, and that’s where the problem lies. Good black-and-white images should have bright whites and deep blacks. To get images like that from a digital camera, you’ll have to manually work with the image in a graphics program like Photoshop. However, if you want to experiment with black-and-white photography, this gives you a good starting point. There are two extra settings in the MC control that allow you to experiment with Filter effects and Toning. The MC control creates a look that is somewhat like Kodak Plus-X Pan negative film, with blacks that are not as deep.

The MC Picture Control has some added features that are enjoyable for those who love black-and-white photography. There are Filter effects that simulate the effect of Y (yellow), O (orange), R (red), and G (green) filters on a monochrome image. Yellow, orange, and red (Y, O, R) change the contrast of the sky in black-and-white images. Green (G) is often used in black-and-white portrait work to change the appearance of skin tones. You don’t have to go buy filters for your lenses; they’re included free in your Nikon.

Additionally, there are 10 variable Toning effects:  B&W (standard black-and-white), Sepia, Cyanotype, Red, Yellow, Green, Blue Green, Blue, Purple Blue, and Red Purple. Each of the Toning effects is variable within itself—you can adjust the saturation of the individual tones. You can shoot a basic black-and-white image, use filters to change how colors appear, or tone the image in experimental ways. Can you see the potential for a lot of fun with these tones?

PT or Portrait

This is a control that “lends a natural texture and rounded feel to the skin of portrait subjects” (Nikon’s description). I’ve taken numerous images with the PT control and shot the same images with the NL control. The results are very similar. I’m sure that Nikon has included some software enhancements specifically for skin tones in this control, so I’d use this control for portraits of people. The results from the PT control look a bit like smooth Kodak Portra or Fuji NPS negative film.

LS or Landscape

This is a control that “produces vibrant landscape and cityscapes,” according to Nikon. That sounds like the VI control to me. I shot a series of images using both the LS and VI controls and got similar results. Compared to the VI control, the LS control seemed to have slightly less saturation in the reds and a tiny bit more saturation in the greens. The blues stayed about the same. It seems that Nikon has created the LS control to be similar to, but not quite as drastic as, the VI control. In my test images, the LS control created smoother transitions in color. However, there was so little difference between the two controls that you’d have to compare the images side by side to notice. Maybe this control is meant to be more natural than the super-saturated VI control. It will certainly improve the look of your landscape images. The look of this control is somewhere between Fuji Provia and Velvia. You get great saturation and contrast, with emphasis on the greens in natural settings.

My Recommendation

When you start missing the "good old film days" just keep in mind that Nikon has not forgotten us digital shooters. With Picture Controls, you can imitate favorite films of yesteryear or even invent your own color schemes with a modified Nikon or Custom Picture Control. Experiment with Picture Controls until you are comfortable with them and can choose the right one for each shooting session.

To help you understand Nikon Picture Controls even better, please download and read the following 13-page PDF document from Nikon:

Note: When you click the link above, it takes a few minutes to download the document, during which time it will seems as if nothing is happening. Just be patient and the PDF file will appear. You’ll need Adobe Reader, which you can download for free from, to open the file. This document describes Picture Controls—with lots of pictures—to help you see the range of control you can achieve. I really enjoyed reading it because it explains Nikon Picture Controls well and even mentions software that will work with them.

If any of the website links give you problems, please contact me via the Contact link at for assistance.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Thursday, September 22, 2011

White Balance and RAW Mode

Should you worry about white balance settings if you shoot in RAW mode? After all, you can modify a RAW file after the fact.

The quick answer is no, but that may not be the best answer. When you take a picture using RAW mode, the data is taken from the imaging sensor with no white balance, sharpening, or color saturation information applied. Instead, the information about the picture’s settings are stored as “markers” along with the RAW black-and-white sensor data. Color information is only applied permanently to the image when you post-process and save the image to another format like JPEG, TIFF, or EPS.

When you open the image in a RAW conversion program, the camera settings are applied to the sensor data in a temporary way so that you can view the image on your computer screen. If you do not like the color balance or any other setting you used in-camera, you can simply change it in the conversion software and the image looks as if you used the new setting when you took the picture.

Does that mean you shouldn't be concerned about white balance settings since if you shoot RAW most of the time? No! The human brain can quickly adjust to an image’s colors and perceive them as normal, even when they are not. This is one of the dangers of not using correct white balance. Since an unbalanced image on your computer screen is not compared to another correctly balanced image side by side, there is some danger that your brain may accept the slightly incorrect camera settings as normal and your image will be saved with a color cast.

As a rule of thumb, if you use your white balance correctly at all times you will consistently produce better images. You will do less post-processing if the white balance is correct in the first place. As RAW shooters, we already have a lot of post-processing work to do. Why add white balance corrections to the workflow? It is just more work, if you ask me!

Additionally, you might decide to switch to JPEG mode in the middle of a shoot, and if you are not accustomed to using your white balance controls, you’ll be in trouble. When you shoot JPEGs, your camera will apply the white balance information directly to the image and save it on your memory card—permanently. Be safe; always use good white balance technique!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Nikon books at:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nikon Releases Two New ILC Cameras – The J1 and V1

On Wednesday September 21, 2011 at the stroke of midnight New York Time, Nikon fulfilled their promise made months ago for an ILC (interchangeable lens camera). However, the promise was fulfilled with not one, but two new "Advanced" ILCs. The Nikon J1 and V1 cameras (new Nikon 1 series):

Nikon J1 with CX sensor and "1" Nikkor 30–110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR Lens 

Nikon V1 with CX sensor and "1" Nikkor 10–30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Lens 

The Nikon J1 and V1 have a new 10-megapixel CMOS sensor size called CX, which measures 13.2 mm x 8.8 mm. This new sensor is smaller than the DX and FX sensor sizes found in Nikon's DSLR camera line, but significantly larger than the COOLPIX point-and-shoot cameras. Here is a size comparison of the various sensor sizes. (Graphic created by Chief Editor Tom Boné):

  • CX: 13.2 x 8.8 mm
  • DX: 23.6 x 15.8 mm
  • FX: 36.0 x 23.9 mm

These sizes are rounded off to the nearest millimeter (mm). Clearly, the CX sensor is a small one. Let's hope Nikon has included all sorts of noise reduction capability in EXPEED 3! Shouldn't be too much of a problem with the two cameras wisely limited to 10 megapixels. Here is a look at the imaging sensor with no lens attached:

CX CMOS sensor: 13.2 x 8.8 mm in size and new Nikon 1 lens mount

The CX sensor has a factor of 2.7x the FX format. In comparison DX line has a factor of 1.5x. Therefore, the CX size imaging sensor is little bigger than half the size of a DX sensor.

Supports Nikkor F-Mount Lenses

Nikon is releasing an adapter called the FT1 Mount Adapter that allows you to use your favorite F-mount Nikkor lenses on the new cameras. Evidently, the adapter allows using both newer and older F-Mount lenses on the new J1 and V1 cameras. Here is Nikon's words on the matter: "When the F-mount adapter is mounted on a camera, F-mount interchangeable NIKKOR lenses, manufactured by Nikon for more than half a century, can be used with the Nikon1 J1 and V1."

Newer Nikkor lenses, and most likely aftermarket lenses, should be supported by the camera. Nikon makes a comment about the connectivity of older AF-S Nikkor CPU lenses, as follows: "Autofocus may not perform as expected in some situations or with some lenses. Restrictions apply to mounting and functionality with some lenses."

Basic Camera Information

The list price of the cameras will be as follows:

  • US$649.95 – Nikon J1 camera with Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.8–5.6 VR kit lens 
  • US$899.95 – Nikon V1 camera with Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.8–5.6 VR kit lens

There will be a dual-lens kit available at additional cost. Shipping date estimated as October 2011.

The camera has a new EXPEED 3 image-processing engine for increased performance and speed.

The autofocus is based on a hybrid system using both focal plane phase detection and contrast detection AF. According to Nikon's research the two cameras have the "world's fastest autofocusing" among ILC cameras as of September 21, 2011. That's a bold statement! When the camera detects movement it uses phase-detection AF for faster focusing and subject tracking. For non-moving and low-light subjects the camera uses the slower but highly accurate contrast-detect AF.

The camera has a 10 frames per second image shooting rate when using subject tracking. Amazingly, when not using subject tracking, the camera increases its continuous high-speed frame rate to 60 frames per second. This is not describing movie mode, this is still image shooting. Clearly, the camera has an electronic shutter to achieve amazing still image frame rates like 60 fps. There are some limitations, though, in the maximum number of images shot at the same time. The V1 allows up to 30 images in the camera's buffer per image shooting burst, while the J1 is limited to 12 images per burst. Use fast memory cards with these two cameras! They'll need to flush those camera buffers to the memory card as soon as possible with such fast frame rates.

The number of AF points in the phase-detection autofocus system is even higher than in the pro and semi-pro DX and FX cameras, with 73 AF points in the ILC cameras compared to 51 AF points in the DSLRs. In the contrast-detection AF system the camera uses 135-area contrast AF.

Standard shooting speeds for the cameras are 5 fps (60 fps with electronic shutter and fixed AF).

Similar to the DSLR line, the ILCs will support all three light metering modes, as follows:
  • Matrix
  • Center-weighted
  • Spot
The camera has a built-in dust reduction system. For new ILC users the cameras offer an Auto Scene Selector mode, which automatically optimizes camera settings for the subject. This is designed for those unsure of how to adjust camera settings themselves. The cameras also have a menu system with reduced complexity.

Standard ISO sensitivity will run from 100 to 3200 ISO, with a Hi 1 setting equivalent to 6400 ISO.

The cameras have four shooting modes, as follows:

Still image
The camera takes a single image with each press of the shutter-release button.

Motion Snapshot  
With each press of the shutter-release button, the camera records a single still image and about 1 second of high-res movie footage from before and after the shutter-release button was pressed. (Huh?) This will allow action shooters to capture the peak of the action by capturing frames over a one-second interval. I know it sounds a little weird to say that the camera records frames before the shutter-release button is pressed since that would seem to require some measure of time traveling capability. However, Nikon states this in their literature, and I quote: "In Motion Snapshot mode, simply pressing the shutter-release button records a still image and about a second of high-resolution movie footage beginning before and ending after the time the shutter-release button was pressed." Evidently, how it works is this: the camera starts recording frames when the shutter-release button is pressed part way down for AF operation. The camera does AF then records frames in a queue—dumping excess images from the front of the queue—until the shutter-release button is pressed. Then, it trims the series of images to a one-second interval surrounding the shutter-release event. Movies shot in this mode are played back in slow motion at 0.4x of normal playback speed. There are four recording themes connected to this shooting mode: Beauty, Waves, Relaxation, and Tenderness. Total movie/still image display can last up to 10 seconds if the shutter-release button is held down that long. When playing back movies the camera shows about 2.5 seconds of video, displays the still frame, then plays the remainder of the short movie—about 7.5 seconds maximum. Each 10-second movie/still set is recorded to the memory card as a package.

Smart Photo Selector
Similar to Motion Snapshot, the camera records frames as soon as you press the shutter-release half way down, after AF. When you press the shutter-release button, the camera examines the images currently in the camera buffer and selects five of the best images surrounding the shutter-release. It then writes these five images to the memory card. This is the equivalent of shooting a five-frame burst. If you do not agree with the camera on which are the best five shots, you can select your favorites from the candidate images and delete the rest.

The movie mode supports 1920 x 1080/60i High-Definition video. That is 1080i HD. The camera comes with special "Short Movie Creator" software allowing you to assemble creative movie segments up to 30 minutes in length. This includes the styles and background music.

Camera Colors

The J1 series of cameras come in five colors. The lenses can be purchased with colors matching the camera body. Here are the colors:

Nikon J1 series cameras in five various colors

The V1 series cameras are only available in two basic colors, as follows:

Nikon V1 series cameras in two colors

Rear Monitor

The J1 camera has a 3.0-inch TFT LCD monitor on back with about 460K-dot resolution. The V1 series has a similar 3.0-inch TFT LCD monitor, except the resolution is doubled at 921K-dots. The monitors use an air-gapless structure with a protective glass covering. They have increased visibility outdoors, allowing image and movie display in brighter light.

Internal Electronic Viewfinder for V1 Only

The J1 camera uses the rear monitor for all image and movie taking and viewing. The V1 allows you to use the rear monitor or a built in viewfinder containing a 1440K-dot EVF. The viewfinder is high definition and bright, with 100% frame coverage through the lens. It has a unique color filtering system that guards against the rainbow artifacts seen on other lesser ILC/EVIL cameras when a subject is moving. This is Nikon, after all! I guess this viewfinder moves the V1 squarely into the EVIL (electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens) camera category.

RAW and JPEG Modes

The cameras support both RAW (NEF) and JPEG shooting, with Active D-Lighting when needed to protect highlight and shadow detail in the JPEG images.

Four New CX Nikon 1 Lenses

Released with the two ILC cameras are several new "1 Nikkor" lenses and a new Speedlight SB-N5. The cameras are part of a system or family, as shown in our next picture:

The Nikon 1 Series Family of ILC cameras, lenses, and Speedlight

The four new CX lenses released for the new ILC line include three compact and lightweight kit lenses and a power-drive zoom lens. Nikon has added the new Nikon 1 mount in the tradition of the F Mount that goes back over 50 years. The new mount is developed specifically for the Nikon 1 series of cameras and lenses. Following is a look at the new lenses along with their names and focal lengths:

Following are the basic specifications on the new Nikon 1 lenses:

1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8
  • A slim, wide-angle fixed focal length (prime) lens with a focal length of 10 mm 
  • Angle of view equivalent to 27 mm in 35mm [135] format
  • Maximum length of 22mm extending from from of camera
  • Metal mount and exterior

1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
  • A 3x standard zoom lens that covers the 10–30-mm range of focal lengths
  • Angle of view equivalent to 27–81mm in 35mm [135] format
  • Vibration Reduction equipped (VR)

1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6
  • A 3.7x telephoto zoom lens that covers the 30–110-mm range of focal lengths 
  • Angle of view equivalent to 81–297mm in 35mm [135] format
  • Vibration Reduction equipped (VR)

1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM
  • A high-power zoom lens that covers the 10–100mm range of focal lengths 
  • Angle of view equivalent to 27–270mm in 35mm [135] format)
  • 10x power drive zoom lens 
  • Auto extends with a power drive zoom switch
  • Metal mount and exterior
  • Vibration Reduction equipped (VR)

Speedlight Flash and GPS Units

The J1 has a built-in flash, while the V1 uses the new Nikon SB-N5 Speedlight flash unit. The V1 can also use the new GP-N100 GPS unit. Both the flash and GPS are shown below:

Nikon SB-N5 Speedlight flash unit and GP-N100 GPS unit
The SB-N5 Speedlight has the following specifications:

  • Guide number: 8.5/27.9 (ISO 100, m/ft), 12/39.4 (ISO 200, m/ft)
  • Bounce: 90° up, 180° left and right
  • Flash shooting distance range: 0.6m-20m (depends on the ISO setting)
  • Effective range: 0.6m to 20m/2 ft to 66 ft (varies with ISO sensitivity, bounce angle, and aperture)
  • Modes: i-TTL, manual
  • Flash modes supported: Fill flash (front-curtain sync), front-curtain with slow sync, rear-curtain sync, and rear-curtain with slow sync, flash compensation
  • Flash duration: 1/4000s when fired at full power
  • Size: approx. 50 x 70.5 x 40.5 mm (W x H x D) 
  • Weight: 70 g

The GP-N100 GPS unit has the following specifications:

  • Records, Latitude, Longitude, Altitude, and Time of Day (UTC)
  • Acquisition times: Cold start : Approx. 40s, Hot start : Approx. 3s
  • Data format: NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) 0183 version 3.1
  • Geodesics: WGS84
  • GPS accuracy: Horizontal : 10m/33 ft RMS
  • Interface: USB
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): Approx. 42.0 x 26.8 x 30.5mm/1.7 x 1.1 x 1.2 in.
  • Weight: Approx. 21g/0.7 oz
  • Supports: Assisted GPS (A-GPS or aGPS)
  • Power is supplied from the camera

Links to Information

Nikon J1 Camera

Nikon V1 Camera

1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 Lens

1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens:

1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 lens:

1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens:

Speedlight SB-N5

GPS Unit GP-N100

Mount adapter FT1

Video on YouTube

Overview Page on


Nikon promised and delivered on a new ILC/EVIL camera system for 2011. The cameras have new technology and promise to deliver superior results. An ILC camera is a great addition to a photographer's arsenal, for those times when only a small, high-quality camera and lenses will do. The new J1 and V1 are parts of a camera system that allows you to invest in quality for the long term. With the new Nikon 1 mount, the future holds much promise for new lenses, while still allowing us to use our F-Mount Nikkors. The best of both worlds. Thank you, Nikon!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Mastering The Nikon DSLR books at:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Image Format is Best for My Photography?

One of the most asked questions by new users of Nikon DSLR cameras is "Which image format should I use?"  The three most common formats are JPEG, TIFF, or NEF (RAW).

Let’s look at each of these image quality formats and see which you might want to use regularly. Following this section is a special supplement called Image Format Pros and Cons. This special section goes beyond just what formats are available and discusses why you might want to use a particular format over another. It discusses details you should know as a Nikon-using digital photographer.

NEF (RAW) Format

This Nikon proprietary format stores raw image data directly to the camera’s memory card in files and can easily be recognized since the file name ends with NEF. This is not an image format used in day-to-day graphical work (like JPEG) and is not yet really even a usable image. Instead, it’s a base storage format used to store images for conversion to another format like JPEG, TIFF, PNG, or EPS.  NEF stores all available image data and can be easily manipulated later.

The included “in-the-box” Nikon CD contains the Nikon Software Suite® for both Macintosh® and Microsoft Windows® computers. It provides Nikon ViewNX®, which can be used to examine your NEF (RAW) files in detail, and convert them to other formats. Optional software like Nikon Capture NX2® is excellent for converting your NEF files, and is my personal favorite.  Or you could purchase Adobe Lightroom®, or Adobe Photoshop® to later change your RAW files into a format like TIFF or JPEG. There are also several other after-market RAW conversion applications available, such as Bibble® or Capture One®.

Before you go out shooting in the NEF RAW format, why not install your conversion software of choice, so that you’ll be able to view, adjust, and save the images to another format when you return?

You may not be able to view NEF files directly on your computer unless you have RAW conversion software installed. Some operating systems provide a downloadable “patch” or “codec” that lets you at least see NEF files as small thumbnails. Do a Google search on these specific words, and you’ll find Microsoft® patches for NEF file viewing: “Microsoft raw thumbnail viewer download” and “NEF codec download.” You’ll be able to download codecs that Microsoft operating systems can use to display small NEF file “thumbnails” when you view a folder containing them. At the time of this book’s writing I could find only codecs for 32-bit Windows XP® and Vista®. There should be one available for Microsoft Windows 7® very soon, or maybe it will natively work with the NEF format.

There are also third-party companies, such as Ardfry Imaging, LLC that offer various 32 and 64-bit codecs for a small fee. I bought the Ardfry version for my computer. If you’re running 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7, you may want to check out the Ardfry Imaging people, or do a little research to see what else is currently available for viewing NEF files as thumbnails in Windows or the Mac.

On a side point, the CD included with your camera also has Nikon Transfer®, a program that helps you get your images off of the camera and onto your computer. I really like Nikon Transfer since it helps me transfer pictures to my computer and leave them on my memory card too. Then if I take more pictures on the same memory card, Nikon Transfer will only transfer the new ones when I reconnect to the computer. In a sense, Nikon Transfer acts like a one-way, memory card to computer synchronizer. As memory cards get bigger and bigger, I can see a time when I’ll keep several months of images on my camera’s card, and transfer the newest ones I take to the computer. I shot about 100 gigabytes of pictures last year. I just saw an ad for a SanDisk 64 gigabyte CF memory card—so it looks like that time is drawing near.

Nikon ViewNX RAW conversion software is supplied free with Nikon DSLRs, while Nikon Capture NX2 requires a separate purchase. Capture NX2 has become my favorite conversion software, along with Adobe Photoshop. I use ViewNX to look at my images because it has an excellent browser-type interface and then push them to Capture NX2 for final post-processing. If I need to remove an ugly spot in the sky from the edge of an otherwise spotless image or a blemish from a person’s face, I’ll use Photoshop’s Clone and Healing tools

JPEG Format

Nikon DSLRs have three JPEG modes. Each of the modes affects the final quality of the image. Let’s look at each mode in detail:

  • JPEG fine (Compression approximately 4:1)
  • JPEG normal (Compression approximately 8:1)
  • JPEG basic (Compression approximately 16:1)

Each of the JPEG modes provides a certain level of “lossy” image compression. Lossy means that JPEG throws away image data. The human eye compensates for small color changes quite well so the JPEG compression algorithm works great for viewing by humans. A useful thing about JPEG is that one can vary the file size of the image (via compression) without affecting quality too badly.

JPEG fine (or Fine Quality JPEG) uses a 4:1 compression ratio so there is a large difference in the file size, with it being as small as 25% of the original size. In this mode an image can be compressed down to as little as 4 or 5 megabytes, without significant loss of image quality. If you decide to shoot in JPEG, this mode will give you the best quality JPEG your camera can produce. Where a 10-12 megabyte compressed RAW setting only allows 500-600 images on an 8-gigabyte memory card the JPEG fine setting raises that to over 1000 files.

JPEG normal (or Normal Quality JPEG) uses an 8:1 compression ratio. This makes the image file about 2 or 3 megabytes. The image quality is still very acceptable in this mode, so if you are just shooting at a party for an average 4x6 printed image size, this mode will allow you to make lots of images. An 8-gigabyte card will hold over 2000 JPEG normal image files.

JPEG basic (or Basic Quality JPEG) uses a 16:1 compression ratio, so the image file size drops to about 1 or 2 megabytes. Remember, these are full size files. If one is shooting for the web, or just wants to document an area well, this mode has sufficient quality. My camera can store a whopping 4000 to 5000 JPEG basic files on my 8-gigabyte SD card.

Combined NEF and JPEG shooting (two images at once)

Some shooters use a clever storage mode whereby the camera takes two images at the same time. NEF (RAW) + JPEG basic is what it’s called (or RAW+B). The camera makes a RAW (NEF) file and a JPEG file each time you press the shutter button. My camera’s storage drops to about 400 images on its 8 GB memory card, since it’s storing a NEF and a JPEG file at the same time for each picture taken.

You can use the RAW file to store all the image data, and later to post-process it into a masterpiece, or you can just use the JPEG file immediately, and later work on the RAW file for high-quality purposes.

There’s no need to go into any detail about these modes other than what we’ve already discussed. The images from the NEF (RAW) + JPEG basic mode has the same features as their individual modes. In other words, the NEF (RAW) file works in a NEF + JPEG just like a NEF (RAW) file if you were using the standalone NEF (RAW) mode. The JPEG in a NEF + JPEG mode works just like a standalone JPEG shot without a NEF (RAW) file.

TIFF Format

The TIFF mode is probably the least used image quality mode on Nikon DSLRs, since it drops storage capacity on an 8-gigabyte card to just a little over 200 images. Plus, it slows the image writes to the memory card. Most of the lower cost Nikon DSLRs don't even support the TIFF format.

Personally, I would rather shoot in NEF (RAW) mode, since I can get almost double the number of images (at 12-bit color depth) on my CF card, and they are 12 or 14-bits instead of the TIFF mode's 8-bits.

However, since the TIFF mode creates images that do not have to be post-processed later (but easily can be if desired) some people will use TIFF mode for initial shooting. TIFF is not a lossy compressed mode, although there is a conversion from 12 or 14-bit to 8-bit initially. The image loses 4 or 6 bits during the conversion so there is color data loss, but it is not enough to make a big difference in the image. Use TIFF mode if you do not want the "lossy" compression of a JPEG and you'd rather not adjust the images later in your computer.

Now, let’s consider which of these formats might become your favorite and the benefits each might bring to your photography.

Image Format Pros and Cons

There are many discussions in Internet camera forums on the subject of “Which is the best image format?” In order to decide which format you may frequently use, why not examine the pros and cons of each? This section is designed to do just that. We’ll examine the pros and cons of the three formats available in many Nikon DSLRs, NEF (RAW), JPEG, and TIFF.  If your camera only supports NEF (RAW) and JPEG, please ignore the TIFF information.

Nikon Electronic Format Features — NEF (RAW)

I am a NEF (RAW) photographer about 98% of the time. I think of a RAW file like I thought of my slides and negatives a few years ago. It’s my original image file that must be saved and protected. Some concerns I can think of for the RAW format are that:

  1. You must post-process and convert every image you shoot into a TIFF or JPEG. (or other viewable format)
  2. There is no industry standard RAW image format, and Nikon has the option of changing the internals of the NEF (RAW) format each time they come out with a new camera. They usually do!

Other than those drawbacks, I and many others, shoot NEF (RAW) for maximum image quality.

It is important that you understand something very different about NEF (RAW) files. They’re not really images — yet. Basically, a RAW file is composed of black-and-white sensor data and camera setting information markers. The RAW file is saved in a form that must be converted to another image type to be used in print or web.

When you take a picture in RAW the camera records the image data from the sensor, and stores markers for how the camera’s color, sharpening, contrast, saturation, etc. are set, but does not apply the camera setting information to the image. In your computer’s post-processing software, the image will appear on screen using the settings you initially set in your camera. However, they are only applied in a temporary manner for your computer viewing pleasure.

If you don’t like the white balance you selected at the time you took the picture, simply apply a new white balance and the image will be just as if you had used the new white balance setting when you first took the picture. If you had low sharpening set in-camera and change it to higher sharpening in-computer, then the image will look just like it would have looked had you used higher in-camera sharpening when you took the image. You can change sharpening levels in the Picture control you have selected.

This is quite powerful! Virtually no camera settings are applied to a RAW file in a permanent way. That means you can change the image to completely different settings and the image will be just as if you had used the new settings when you first took the picture. This allows a lot of flexibility later. If you shot the image initially using the Standard Picture Control, and now want to use the Vivid Picture Control, all you have to do is change the image to the Vivid Picture Control before the final conversion, and it will be as if you used the Vivid Picture Control when you first took the picture. Complete flexibility!

NEF (RAW) is generally used by individuals concerned with maximum image quality and who have time to convert the image in the computer after taking it with the camera. A conversion to JPEG sets image markers permanently, while a conversion to TIFF sets the markers, but allows you to modify the image later. Unfortunately, TIFF format has very large file sizes.

Here are the pros and cons for NEF (RAW) format:

NEF (RAW) Positives

  • Allows the manipulation of image data to achieve the highest quality image available from the camera.
  • All original detail stays in the image for future processing needs.
  • No conversions, sharpening, sizing, or color rebalancing will be performed by the camera. Your images are untouched and pure!
  • Can convert to any of the other image formats by using your computer's much more powerful processor instead of the camera processor.
  • You have much more control over the final look of the image, since you, not the camera are making decisions as to the final appearance of the image.
  • 12-bit or 14-bit format for maximum image color data.
 NEF (RAW) Negatives
  • Not compatible with the publishing industry, except by conversion to another format.
  • Requires post-processing by special proprietary software as provided by the camera manufacturer or third-party software programmers.
  • Larger file sizes (so you must have large storage media).
  • No accepted industry standard RAW format. Each camera manufacturer has its own proprietary format. Adobe® has a RAW format called DNG (Digital Negative) that might become an industry standard. We'll see!
  • Industry standard for printing is 8-bit files, not 12-bit files.

JPEG Format Features

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is used by individuals who want excellent image quality, but have little time or interest in later post-processing or converting images to another format. They want to use the image immediately when it comes out of the camera, with no major adjustments.

The JPEG format applies whatever camera settings you have chosen to the image when it is taken. It comes out of the camera ready to use, as long as you have exposed it properly and have all the other settings set in the best way for the image.

Since JPEG is a “lossy” format, one cannot modify and save it more than a time or two before ruining the image from compression losses. However, since there is no post-processing required later, this format allows much quicker usage of the image. A person shooting a large quantity of images, or who doesn’t have the time to convert RAW images, will usually use JPEG. That encompasses a lot of photographers.

While a nature photographer might want to use RAW, since he has more time for processing images and wringing the last drop of quality out of them, an event or journalist photographer may not have the time or interest in processing images, so he’ll use JPEG.

Here are the pros and cons of using JPEG mode:

JPEG Positives

  • Maximum number of images on camera card and later in computer hard drive storage.
  • Fastest writes from camera memory buffer to memory card storage.
  • Absolute compatibility with everything and everybody in imaging.
  • Uses the industry printing standard of 8-bits.
  • High-quality first use images.
  • No special software needed to use the image right out of the camera. (No post-processing)
  • Immediate use on websites with minimal processing.
  • Easy transfer across Internet, and as e-mail attachments.

JPEG Negatives

  • JPEG is a "lossy" format, which means that it permanently throws away image data from compression algorithm losses as you select higher levels of compression (fine, normal, basic).
  • You cannot use JPEG to manipulate an image more than once or twice before it degrades to an unusable state. Every time you modify and resave a JPEG image it loses more data.

TIFF Format Features

Finally, let's consider the TIFF format. It is used by those who want to be able to work with their images over and over without throwing away data from compression, like JPEG does.

You can shoot in TIFF if your camera supports it and you'll get excellent 8-bit images. When you shoot TIFF the camera does not compress the image. It does apply the camera settings to the image file immediately. Since the camera shoots natively in 12-bit or 14-bit, there is some initial data loss in using the TIFF format since some data is thrown away when converting down to 8-bit TIFF. The primary problem with TIFF files is that they are huge and will slow your camera down while it saves those large TIFF files.

Here are the pros and cons of the TIFF format:

TIFF Positives

  • Very high image quality.
  • Excellent compatibility with the publishing industry.
  • Is considered a "lossless" format, since the image normally uses no compression, and loses no more data than the initial conversion from 12 or 14-bits to 8-bits in the camera's software.
  • Can modify and resave the images an endless number of times without throwing away image data.
  • Does not require software post-processing during or after download from camera, so the image is immediately usable.

TIFF Negatives

  • Very large files in camera memory, so your ability to take a lot of images requires very large CF storage cards.
  • Must have larger hard drives on your computer to store these huge image files. 
  • In-camera image processing is slower, so you will be limited in the number of fast pictures you can take. 
  • Unless you have a high-speed Internet connection, don't even consider sending one of these monsters across the Internet. Even then, you may find you are constrained by your ISP’s file-size limitations.

Final Image Format Ramblings

Which format do I prefer? Why, RAW, of course! But, it does require a bit of a commitment to shoot in this format. The camera is simply an image capturing device, and you are the image manipulator. You decide the final format, compression ratios, sizes, color balances, picture controls, etc. In RAW mode, you have the absolute best image your camera can produce. It is not modified by the camera, and is ready for your personal touch. No camera processing allowed!

If you get nothing else from this section, remember this... by letting your camera process the images in ANY way, it is modifying or throwing away image data. There is only a finite amount of data for each image that can be stored on your camera, and later on the computer. With JPEG mode, your camera is optimizing the image according to the assumptions recorded in its memory. Data is being thrown away permanently, in varying amounts.

If you want to keep virtually all the image data that was recorded in the image, you must store your originals in RAW format. Otherwise you’ll never again be able to access that original data to change how it looks. RAW format is the closest thing to a film negative or a transparency that your digital camera can make.
That’s important if you’d like to use the image later for modification. If you’re a photographer that’s concerned with maximum quality you should probably shoot and store your images in RAW format. Later, when you have the urge to make another JPEG or TIFF masterpiece out of the original RAW image file, you will have ALL of your original data intact for the highest quality.

If you’re concerned that the RAW format may change too much—over time—to be readable by future generations, then you might want to convert your images into TIFF, DNG, or JPEG files. TIFF is best if you want to modify them later. I often save a TIFF version of my best files just in case RAW changes too much in the future. I’m not overly concerned, though, since I can still open my 2002 NEF (RAW) files from my old Nikon D100 in Nikon Capture NX2. Why not do a little more research on this subject and decide which you like best.

(This article is a short excerpt from Mastering the Nikon D300.)

Keep on capturing time...
Digital Darrell

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Photography Basics - What is an ILC/EVIL camera?

With a new interest in smaller bodied cameras having high quality images, the new ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) or EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras have caught the attention of a lot of people. What is the difference between a standard DSLR and an ILC/EVIL camera?

ILC and EVIL is a hard category of cameras to describe because they come in so many shapes and sizes. ILC or EVIL can mean anything from basic, just above point-and-shoot level cameras with larger imaging sensors, to system camera with lots of lenses, rivaling a DSLR in system support. In figure 1 is a Panasonic G2 ILC or EVIL camera:

Figure 1 – Panasonic G2 ILC or EVIL camera

Comparing the Panasonic with your average DSLR you probably notice that the bump on top that normally contains a prism housing for the viewfinder is much smaller. There is no prism because the camera shows its live view output on a monitor instead. Comparing an ILC/EVIL to a DSLR, in figure 2, we see the path of light taken through a DSLR's lens, bouncing off the reflex mirror, up through the prism, and out the viewfinder to the photographer's eye.

Figure 2 – Path of light (red arrow) through a DSLR's lens, reflex mirror, and prism

An ILC camera has no reflex mirror/prism system as shown in figure 2. Instead it simply takes the output from the imaging sensor and displays it directly on a small LCD monitor inside the viewfinder's eyepiece, on the back of the camera on a large LCD monitor, or both.

An ILC/EVIL is a mirrorless camera, basically a DSLR without a mirror. Instead of a mirror/prism system an ILC/EVIL camera uses various viewfinder styles, including the following:

  • A basic viewfinder that doesn’t see through the lens (rangefinder style)
  • An electronic viewfinder inside a viewfinder eyepiece
  • A live view LCD monitor on the back of the camera
  • A combination of all three 

A small ILC/EVIL camera can be indistinguishable from a better quality point and shoot camera. Larger ILC/EVIL camera bodies can resemble DSLRs. The main things that distinguishes ILC/EVIL cameras from point-and-shoot cameras are two basic things, as follows:

  • The larger imaging sensor allows very high quality images
  • It has various interchangeable lenses you can mount on the camera body

Other than the viewfinder system, the ILC/EVIL is similar to a DSLR in how it captures the image. They can have similar quality, as long as the imaging sensor is of comparable size.

See why I say an ILC is hard to describe? Some larger ILC/EVIL cameras look very similar to small DSLR cameras, although the bump on top of the camera is much smaller since there is no need for the bulky prism a DSLR uses (figure 1). The primary difference between a DSLR and an ILC/EVIL camera is the reflex mirror and prism viewing system that only the DSLR has. Other than that, both camera types can provide similar high-quality images.

The most important thing to consider when buying an ILC style camera is that it have as large an imaging sensor as possible and plenty of lenses and accessories to select from.

Which Camera Style Should I Choose, DSLR or ILC/EVIL?

The most enthusiastic enthusiasts generally use DSLR cameras. However, ILC/EVIL cameras are increasing in power and capability with each new generation. ILC/EVIL cameras used to be considered less powerful, having a better imaging sensor but not much better otherwise than point and shoot models. However, now the line is blurred between the two types. Some ILC/EVIL cameras are very basic—similar to a point-and-shoot—while others are more like DSLRs.

When should you choose a DSLR over an ILC/EVIL camera? If you are going to do commercial work (even eventually), you may want to consider using a DSLR. If you want to make the best possible images you can make, a DSLR system may still provide an edge over an ILC/EVIL camera, due to more rapid and precise viewing of the subject through the viewfinder.

This is a touchy subject for some; however, it is generally recognized that the DSLR is the professional’s camera of choice, mainly because of the support system in place from the longer existance of SLR-type cameras. As time goes by and ILCs grow in power, this may change. For now, if you see yourself specializing in things like action or sports photography, portrait work, or event shooting, you may want to choose a DSLR over an ILC.

The primary limitations of an ILC/EVIL come from the slowness of an electronic viewfinder, in comparison to the mirror/prism system of the DSLR. The autofocus system (automatic camera focusing) can also be significantly slower on an ILC/EVIL camera due to the fact that most use a type of autofocus called contrast detection. This type of autofocus is very precise but much slower than the type used by DSLR type cameras—called phase detection. That’s why you see all those sports photographers with their DSLRs and huge, long lenses at sporting events. They must have very fast response times in order to capture fast moving subjects. DSLRs excel for that type of photography.

When you are shooting action, it can be harder for an ILC/EVIL camera to keep up with the movement, due to slower autofocus and electronic viewfinder response. However, newer ILC/EVIL cameras are drastically increasing the speed of their autofocus and electronic viewfinders, so it may be that you’ll do just fine with an ILC/EVIL instead of a DSLR.

If you are primarily doing things like street photography, landscapes and scenics, and family pictures, an ILC/EVIL camera is up to the task. Any type of slower, contemplative photography can be done equally well with a DSLR or ILC/EVIL camera. Once again, it all boils down to your own preferences and style. Which camera type do you like best? That’s the one to use!

Better yet, get both. Use the DSLR when you are out doing serious commercial-type work, and the ILC/EVIL camera when you just want to enjoy photography. Many photographers take that route. They use a DSLR when they don’t mind the extra size and weight of the camera and an ILC/EVIL camera when they are interested using a smaller camera, such as for travel photography.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
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