Our thoughts on the news, products, and trends in the photography world.

Trade Show Season

October 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment



It's the trade show season again in the photo industry.  The time of year, when the camera manufactures trot out all of their new toys for us to drool over.  With Photokina over and Photo Plus Expo winding up, it's time to sort through all the new cameras that were released.  

The most interesting thing to me about both of these trade shows is how the cell phone has changed and is currently influencing the photo industry.  The first  cell phone theme that you hear over and over, is the apparent death of  the point and shoot market.   Cell phones, have supposedly made point and shoots obsolete.  Why carry an extra camera when you have a phone, which in a lot of ways is better than a dedicated point and shoot.  But don't tell Sony this.  They just released the excellent new Cybershot RX 100 V.  It has a 20.1 Megapixel 1 inch sensor and an equivalent 24-70 f1.8-2.8 zoom lens.  Plus it shoots 4K video.  This beauty will set you back $1000, so it probably isn't for the casual photographer.  On the cheaper end,  one of the few point and shoots at Photokina the Lumix DMC-LX10 which has a 20 megapixel 1 inch sensor, will "only" cost $699.  Photokina also showcased another response to the cell phone onslaught, with many manufactures looking to the past and hoping nostalgia will convince you to buy their cameras.  Specifically the rebirth of the instant camera. Why instant, you may ask?  The answer is simple, these cameras can do the one thing a cell phone can't do and that is is print your picture.  Polaroid helped start this trend by bringing back the famous SX-70 instant camera and continued the trend at Photokina with the new snap touch, which has a small screen on the back and a 13 megapixal sensor.  Leica got in on the act at Photokina, with the Leica SoFort instant camera that uses Fujifilm Instax mini film.  If you've got a spare $300 it's a pretty cool camera.  Lomography also introduced an instant camera with their Automat film camera.  This uses the same Fujifilm Instax mini film as the Leica but is expected to retail for $149.  Not to be outdone, Fuji who like Polaroid has been leading the instant film charge, introduced a new square version of their Instax film and said new cameras for the square format are coming next year.  The square Instax film is a modern spin on the old Polaroid 600 film.  They also introduced a black and white monochrome option for the Instax mini film.  It will be interesting to see if other manufacturers follow this trend next year.

Another way cellphones are affecting the industry is how DSLRs are being viewed.  It was long assumed that any "serious" photographer would only to choose to use a DSLR.  But that is proving not to be true.  The Chicago Sun Times fired their photographers and handed phones to their reporters.  Apple and ESPN came together to give a reporter the iphone 7 and shoot from a fans point of view at the U.S. Open in Queens.  Those photos were published in the ESPN magazine.  Now as a professional photographer I personally don't ever see the day when I will put down my DSLR in favor of my phone.  But I do recogonize how the cell phone is fundamently changing my industry and pushing it directions we never dreamed about.  

The camera manufacturers response to this at Photokina and Photo Plus seemed to be the more megapixels the better.  Which means expect to see more higher megapixel cameras than every before.  Nothing showed this philosphy more than the star of the Photokina show, the Fujifilm GFX mirrorless medium format camera.  With it's DSLR like body and big 51.4 megapixel sensor it is a very nice camera.  But it also comes with a nice big price tag with the price expected to be between $8000 and $10,000 for the body only. It is squarely aimed at the high end pro or the well heeled enthusiast.  As is Phase One's new IQ1 100 megapixel medium format digital back which retails for $33,000. Both of these cameras will produce amazing pictures which no cell phone can ever hope to match.  

On the more "affordable" side are four very nice cameras.  Canon released two new cameras.  The Canon 5d Mark IV with its 30.4 megapixel full frame sensor which costs $3500 for the body only and the Canon M5 Mirrorless with a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor which costs $949 for the body only. Sony also released two new cameras.  The Sony Alpha a99 II with a 42.4 megapixel full frame sensor which costs $3200 for the body only and the Sony Alpha 6500 mirrorless camera with a a 24 megapixel APS-C sensor which costs $1400 for the body only.   

In the micro 4/3 sensor world both panasonic and Olympus showed off some nice new toys.  Olympus showed off their new mirrorless camera the PEN E-PL8 with a 16 megapixel sensor which costs $549 for the body only.  Olympus also teased a new flagship camera.  Panasonic introduced several new Lumix cameras, starting with the high end DMC-G85 mirroless camera with a DSLR type body, it has a 16 megapixel sensor and will cost $897 for the body only. The Lumix DMC-FZ2500/FZ2000 are all in one cameras with a 24-480mm equiv. F2.8-4.5 lens and 20 megapixels it a big camera with a big price of $1199.  I find the micro 4/3 market segment interesting.  They seem to exist in a world inbetween cell phones/point and shoots and DSLRs.   The sensors in these cameras aren't much bigger than a cell phone, so they make their stand on being the low cost alternative to the DSLR.  They are aimed at the people who want better optics then the cell phone but don't want to pay for the size or price of a DSLR.  Olympus in particular has excellent lenses.  But even they are trying to seperate themselves from the cell phone by going big.  Yes 16 megapixels sounds smaller then the 42 megapixels on the Sony a99 II but on a micro 4/3 sensor, 16 megapixels is huge.  As cell phones advance, it will be interesting to see how long the micro 4/3 market will last.  

One name you may have noticed was missing was Nikon.  They timed their new camera releases with the summer Olympics and did not have any new photography cameras at the trade shows.  They did have a presence at the trades with their new action video camera the Keymission which is a Gopro rival and was timed to steal some of the thunder from the Gopro Hero 5 which was also released.  The fact that Nikon decided to focus on video at the photography trade show, is interesting to say the least.  

As you can see a lot of goodies were introduced at the fall trade shows.  In my opinion all of these cameras are very interesting but some are more practical and useful than others.  The medium format megapixel monsters are nice but the cost of the camera, not to mention the cost of storage and computing power puts them in the not practical or useful category for almost everyone.  The retro instant cameras are nice but they seem best suited for those who want to have fun at parties or share photos with friends which makes them impractical for pros but good for casual photographers.  The DSLR and mirrorless cameras that were introduced are the most useful for pros but if you're a causal photographer the DSLR offerings are way more more camera than you need and the mirrorless cameras are little pricey.  You might want to look at the older models, like the Sony Alpha 6300, entry level models, like a Canon Rebel SL1 or look at some of the micro 4/3 offerings.    


Shooting Sports With A Point and Shoot Camera

August 29, 2016  •  Leave a Comment




Last year, I did a blog post on sports photography tips.  In the post I stated that a DSLR is the best camera for the job.  Even though this remains true, I recently had a conversation with someone about the post and they pointed out to me that many people either don't want a DSLR or can't afford one. This person went on and asked, "How would you shoot a sports event with a point shoot camera?" Great question, I've always shot sports with a DSLR and never really thought about shooting with a point and shoot.  So I pondered the question and came up with some tips.  As luck would have it, a friend got tickets behind home plate for Alex Rodriguez's last game at Yankee Stadium and asked me along. What better place to test out shooting sports with a point shoot?  So with my trusty Canon Powershot SD870 IS, I set off to shoot some photos.  Here is a cropped photo of A-Rod's last hit as NY Yankee that I took with my point and shoot.

I was very pleased with this shot.  It had the ball in frame, it had context and it was fairly sharp.  So how did I get the shot?  I believe the two most important aspects to shooting with a point and shoot is anticipation and understanding shutter lag. Anticipation, is basically knowing the sport you are shooting and anticipating the action. Shutter lag is a little bit more complicated.  Most point and shoots and camera phones for that matter, use some form of LCD screen. The image you see on the screen is being projected from the sensor in the camera.  So when you press the shutter, the camera must first shut off the screen to switch to capture mode and then shoot the picture.  This results in shutter lag.  Most modern point and shoots have a shutter lag of two seconds or less.  Older cameras, like mine, can have a shutter lag of greater than two seconds. Two seconds doesn't sound like much time but in sports it's an eternity.  To understand how anticipation and shutter lag effects your shot, lets examine how I got the A-Rod shot. First I anticipated the action I wanted to photograph, in this case A-Rod swinging at the ball. I know that a major league pitcher can get a ball to home plate in about two seconds, so accounting for shutter lag I know that I have to press my shutter just as the pitcher is throwing the ball in order to capture A-Rod swinging at the ball.  I also know that if I wait until A-Rod swings to press the shutter, I will miss the shot because of the shutter lag.  So I focused on A-Rod in the box and waited until the pitcher was just about to throw the ball to press the shutter and the rest as they say is history. 

So how does this all apply to Mom and Dad photographing their child's sporting event?  First lets stack the odds in your favor. You should start by switching to sports mode.  Every camera has a sports mode.  The sports mode is good because it tells the camera to focus and shoot in the best manner for sports.  Next turn off any kind of digital zoom because it doesn't help.  Make sure your Auto ISO is on.  Lastly turn off you flash because a point shoot flash is to weak to freeze action or be effective from any distance. Now let's go through some examples.  Example one your child is playing goalie on the soccer pitch.  You see the attacker streaking down the pitch to shoot at the net.  In anticipation of the action you want to capture, in this case your child making a spectacular save.  You should focus on your child.  Press the shutter just as the attacker kicks the ball at the net and you should get your shot.  But with one caveat, and that caveat is know the skill level of the children you are photographing.  If this is a pee wee league they don't always have a lot of force behind it and you can get away with waiting  a tick or two after the kick is made and still get the shot.  But if this is high school soccer you need to make sure you are pressing the shutter just as they are kicking the ball at the net.  Bottom line use your own judgement on how fast the ball will travel and then adjust as necessary.  Another example, is your child is a shooting guard on a basketball team.  You see the team setting up a pick and roll for your child. You anticipate where your child is going to come off the screen and point the camera there.  Once your child comes off the screen immediately focus on them as they are waiting for the pass.  Press the shutter immediately after he/she catches the pass to capture them shooting the ball.  The same caveats from the other example apply here as well.  

Finally, I would like reiterate a few tips for sports photography whether you shoot with a DSLR or point and shoot.  Don't get tunnel vision.  Which basically means be aware of  the action around you.  For instance in the last example be aware of where the defender so you can anticipate a pump fake to shake the defender before the shot.  Anticipating these sorts of things will help you be ready to get better shots, like a defender sailing by as your child shoots the rock.  Make sure when you frame your shot to keep the ball and/or defender in the frame for context. Sometimes a wider shot which shows the crowd is cool, not everything has to be tight closeups. Don't forgot the quiet moments. Take pictures of your child on the bench laughing with their friends, talking with their coach, warming up, or shaking hands at the end of the game.  Last and most important have fun.  

What is a Filter and Do They Still Matter?

December 17, 2015  •  Leave a Comment



What is a filter and why do photographers use them?  The most basic answer is a filter is a photographic tool that alters, color temperature, lighting, or creates special effects when taking photos.  Filters are primarily used for outdoor photography, though there are occasions when they are used indoors. They are placed on either the front of the lens or in a slot in the rear of the lens.  There are two types of filters, circular which is screwed on to the front of your lens or rectangular which is either placed in a filter holder which is also screwed into the front of the lens or in the rear slot in your lens. So in a world of digital cameras, computers, and photoshop are filters still necessary?  The answer is a resounding yes.  These are the filters I think every photographer should still be using.

The first filter is a polarizing filters.  There are two types of polarizing filter, linear and circular.  For the modern dslr you must use a circular polarizer other wise your autofocus will not work.  What is a polarizing filter?  In short the filter cuts down glare and haze while increasing contrast.  It is particulary good at making clouds in the sky pop and taking reflections out of glass.  If you are shooting landscapes or buildings outside you should definitely have a polarizer on your camera most of the time.  Remember when you use a  polarizer the filter will cut your exposer by about a stop and a half.  So if your exposer is 1/120 at f 16, you must adjust your exposer to 1/120 at f 11 with the filter on because the filter cuts the amount of light that passes through the lens.  

The next type of filter you should have is a graduated neutral density filter.  A graduated neutral density filter has a neutral density filter on top to cut the amount of light coming in and is clear on the bottom.  They come in various strengths from one stop to three stops.  These filters are very important for landscape photographers but benefits everyone.   The reason you need these filters is that as photographers we are taught to photograph scenes with clouds because it's more interesting.  But big puffy clouds on a bright sunny day act like diffusers and reduce the amount of light reaching the ground.  So what happens is the clouds are brighter then the scene you are shooting so whether you use an incident meter or a reflective meter your subject will be exposed properly but the sky will be washed out and have no definition.  To solve this you use a graduated neutral density filter.  To properly use this filter you must first take two exposers one of the clouds and one of the subject on the ground.  The difference between the two tells you the strength of the filter you need to use.  So if you expose the clouds at f22 and the subject at f11 then you know it is a two stop difference, so you need to use a two stop graduated neutral density filter.  Line up the top half of the filter with the sky and shoot your subject at f11, your subject and sky will now have the same exposer.  

The final filter you should have is a variable neutral density filter.  The main difference between this filter and a graduated neutral density is that there isn't a a clear bottom.  A variable neutral density filter is great because you can dial in how strong the effect you want.  In the past photographers would have to carry four or five neutral density filters each in a different strength.  Now this one filter does the work of all five.  This filter is a great creative tool because it is specifically designed to cut the light that reaches the sensor.  By reducing the light, it allows you to use slower shutter speeds even in full sunlight.  As an example if you're photographing a waterfall at golden hour and your exposure is 1/125 of a second at f16.  You have the perfect light but you want the creamy effect of running water which you can't get with your current shutter speed.  This is where the neutral density filter comes in.  You can use the filter to lower the shutter speed three stops.  So now your exposure is 1/15 of a second at f16.  So now you have the perfect golden light and the creamy effect of running water.  One PSA for all new photographers, when using this filter you should always be using a good tripod and a cable release.  I don't not recommend attempting to hand hold the camera.  

Are there any filters you should use if you're taking pictures inside?  When photographing inside filters are not really neccessary because most indoor filters were designed to correct color temperture but modern dslrs can adjust their white balance to correct these issues without a filter.  As an example when everyone used film a common indoor filter was the FL-D which was used when photographing in a building with flourescent lights.  When you used film if you didn't use the FL-D your photos would have an ugly green tint because florescent bulbs have a color temperture of about 4200K and film had a temperature of 5700K.  In modern cameras the FL-D isn't necessary because you can just change your white balance to florescent.  Even that isn't always necessary because the auto white balance is actually pretty good.  I do use a diffusing filter to soften the image and cut contrast.  These filters come in many names, I use the Tiffen black mist pro which comes in varying strengths.  Basically these filters soften the skin tones while maintaining sharpness.  If digital has a flaw it is when you photograph people it is too sharp and every blemish, wrinkle, and scar jumps out.  These filters lessen that effect.  Whether you use this filter is a personal choice, some people like it, some don't.  

And there you have it the filters every photographer should have and use.  Filters are a great tool, that will enhance your photography, so I hope you will give them a try.  




To Print or Not to Print

August 13, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

There has been some debate on the internet over the past few months about what happens to all those digital pictures we are all taking.  Many experts have come out and said they don't expect our digital pictures to last very long and the only way to save them is to print.  But this has led to some confusion as to why the digital photos will not be around for the long haul.  So, let us take a look at why digital may fade away.

The ultimate problem with digital, is technological obsolescence.  What is that?  It's the envitable fate of all technology.  What was once new and cutting edge ultimately becomes outdated and no longer practical or useful.  Everything eventually goes the way of the eight track, VHS tape, or My Space.  The reason this is a problem is that you can't possibily keep up with or predict the changes in technology.  Five years ago everything was optical media, now everyone is in the cloud.  Even the file format we will be using five years from now may change.  There are many contenders to replace the omni present jpeg. The second problem with technology is that at some point it fails.  Your computer crashes, your phone gets broken, or tablet bricks because the latest OS outstrips your hardware.  Every piece of hardware eventually gives up the ghost for one reason or another.  Because of this I agree withe experts that the only way to truly preserve your digital memories is to print.   

So here's a primer for printing.  First make sure you use a good photo lab, like Mpix or Shutterfly.  Make sure the lab uses archival paper.  After printing make sure you put your photos in a archival safe photo album or an acid free photo storage box.  The reason photographers use archival paper and archival safe photo albums is because the acid in the paper will eventually stain and discolor your photos.  Other things that will cause color fade or warp your photos is heat and moisture, so try to store them in a cool, dry place.  Direct sunlight will also damage your photos so if you choose to frame and hang your photos place on the wall that has the least amount of sun.  

One final note about preserving your digital memories.  Even though I feel printing your photos is the best way to ensure twenty years from now you can share your photos, it goes without saying that you should also be backing up your photos.  On your cell phone make sure you use the auto backup feature, either the ICloud for Apple or Google Photos for Android, so this way if you lose your phone or if your phone dies, you won't lose your data.  If you use a digital camera make sure you download those memory cards and back them up.  Google photo gives unlimited storage so at the very least you should back them up there.  I personally save everything on two different external hard drives and two different cloud accounts.   Also look into a catalog program like Lightroom to organize your photos.  Finally, it is important to note that, no matter what type of backup you use it is not permanent.  Because of the relentless march of technology you will probably have to transfer your media several times in your life time.   How many of you still have home movies on VHS?   So you should view your backup as a temporary place to store photos until you have to move on to whatever is next on the technological horizon.  


Mirrorless or DSLR?

June 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

In the last few years mirrorless cameras have gone from being fringe players in the camera market to being industry leaders with a significant market share.   But what is the difference between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR?  That's a question a lot of people have aksed and there seems to be some confusion about the answer.  So let's take a look at some of the differences of each type of camera and some of their strengths and weaknesses.  

The most obvious difference is that one has a mirror and one doesn't.  Why does this matter?  Because the mirror affects how the camera focuses.  There are three types of autofocus, phase detection, contrast detection, and hybrid.  A DSLR cameras uses phase detection and mirrorless cameras uses contrast detection.  Some newer mirroless cameras like Sony's just announced A7rII uses hybrid detection.  On a DSLR, phase detection takes place when the mirror reflects the image on to a seperate sensor which compares two reflected images to find the distance. On a mirrorless camera, contrast detection is done on the image sensor of the camera, so focus is determined by the light striking the sensor and the processor uses focus peaking to determine optimal focus. The third type, hybrid focus, uses phase detection lenses on the image sensor to find the distance and then fine tunes the focus using contrast detection by the processor. Of the three types of focus, phase detection is the fastest which gives the autofocus speed advantage to the DSLR cameras.  Contrast detection tends to hunt for the proper focus making it slow and not as responsive as phase detection.  Is this a deal breaker?  No, for most casual photographers and even some pros the hunting by the contrast detection is not much of an issue for everyday photography just a bit annoying. The new hybrid focus systems look promising.  Each generation of the hybrid system gets faster and better.  But there are still some technical hurdles to overcome, so hybrid systems still lag behind phase detection. So if you're photographing anything fast or you need to track a moving object, you would do well to stick with a DSLR.  

Another major difference is in lens selection.  DSLR cameras have been around for a long time so there a lot of lenses available from both the manufacturer and third party vendors.  Mirrorless on the other hand is still relatively new so the selection of lenses is slim(but growing) and telephotos are hard to come by.  The possible game changer is lens adapters which allow you to use either Canon or Nikon lenses on a mirrorless body.  The main problem with lens adapters is that they don't allow you to autofocus non-native lenses or if there is autofocus it is so slow you might as well stick to manaul focus.  The new A7rII hybrid autofocus seems to be taking steps to solving this issue but I feel using Canon or Nikon lenses on a mirrorless body might still be one or two generations away from being practical.  So if you need to use a good telephoto or prefer a large lens selection stick to a DSLR.    

The biggest difference between a DSLR and a mirroless camera is size.  Without a mirror and a pentaprisim, a mirrorless camera is smaller and lighter than a DSLR and are far easier to carry around.  A mirrorless camera with an APS-C image sensor is about the size of an old point and shoot but it has all the same functions as a DSLR.   Even the full frame mirrorless cameras are much smaller and lighter then their DSLR counterparts.  Such size and portability is very appealing to casual photographers and pros.  Anyone looking for a good travel camera that easy to carry around, should definitely take a look at the available mirrorless cameras.

Another difference is mirrorless cameras use an electronic viewfinder versus an optical viewfinder in a DSLR.   When you look through a mirrorless camera's electronic viewfinder it shows you what the sensor sees.  So what you see is exactly what the sensor will photograph.  Electronic viewfinders are also brighter. Overall electronic viewfinders are very nice and I like them.  There are few trade offs,  the most notable is they drain battery life.  Another is there is a slight lag when you take a photo and the viewfinder blacks out.  There is some debate as to how useful they are in low light situations but I think they work fine.  In comparison, a DSLR's optical viewfinder shows you a reflected image of what is seen through the lens.  The optical viewfinder also crops the image slightly so you're not seeing the whole scene.  So you have to be mindful of the edges when you frame your photograph.  But again if you need to track moving objects or photograph anything really fast, you can't beat an optical viewfinder.  The reason is you never lose sight of your subject through the viewfinder, even if you're shooting continously because there is no lag or blackout.  

The last major difference is that in my opinion mirrorless cameras are better suited for video.  The reason they are better goes back to the mirror or lack there of.  When a DSLR shoots video the mirror on the camera goes up and stays up meaning it can't use phase detection to focus.  This meant you couldn't autofocus when you used older DSLRs to shoot video.  New DSLRs solve this problem by switching to contrast detection so that the camera can focus when the mirror is up.  But in my opinion they lag behind the mirrorless cameras which don't have a mirror and already use contrast detection. Yes, some movies and tv shows use DSLRs to film scenes.  They do this because the lenses on the DSLR are better.  But to overcome the focusing issue they use very expensive camera rigs with follow focus rings.  These rigs are not very practical for the casual shooter, or the pro who shoots primarily stills.  So if you want a good all around camera that can shoot good still picutres and good video I would use a mirrorless.   

As for image quality, neither type of camera has an advantage over the other.  Digital sensors are very good today and you will get very nice pictures no matter which type of camera you choose.  So these are the some of the differences between a mirrorless and a DSLR camera.  Both types of camera will take excellent pictures and bring much photographic joy.  Which one you choose will ultimately be dictated by your photographic needs and goals. 

Christopher Eng-Wong Photography is a commericial stock studio. We sell digital graphic art prints here on our website and stock photos through Shutterstock, Bigstock, Dreamstime, and Fotolia. Thank you for visiting our blog.
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