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

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. 

Sports Photography Tips For Mom and Dad

March 05, 2015  •  1 Comment

One of the great joys of parenthood is watching your child play a sport.  You sit in the stands and cheer their every move and revel in their joy of the game.  Naturally, you want to preserve these moments.  Freeze time for just a second, so that years from now you can look back and smile.  So how does one shoot sports photography?  Let's start with the equipment.

I recommend that you use a DSLR camera.  In a nutshell a DSLR camera has the best autofocus and speed, the ability to use different lenses and a viewfinder. There are plenty of choices to choose from but all you really need is a 24mm APS-C camera.  Entry level cameras like the Nikon D5500 or the Canon Rebel T6i are excellent choices.  If you want to step up in class, the new Nikon D7200 or the Canon 7D II are good choices which offer better autofocus and speed then the entry level camera but cost significantly more.   Some of you might be wondering about full frame 35mm cameras. There a lot of people (especially sales people) who will try to sell you on the "advantages" a full frame camera.  But the truth is any advantage a full frame sensor may or may not have is not worth the extra cost. The APS-C 24mm camera is more camera then you'll need. 

The best lens for you camera is an 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 all in one zoom.  Nikon makes a version of this lens, Canon has an 18-200mm version, Sigma and Tamron also make an 18-300mm version of this lens for, Nikon, Canon, and Sonly Alpha lens mount.  The reason I recommend this lens is that it, in my opinion, gives you the best bang for your buck.  It's a versitile all around len, that allows you to shoot wide angle to telephoto zoom and everything in between without changing the lens.  It can be used for sports or any other family functions, vacations, birthdays, recitals, etc.  You want to able use your camera for more than sports.  When purchasing this lens make sure you get the latest model which has optical image stabilization, if it doesn't have image stabilization it's the older model.  Also make sure you purchase the lens made for APS-C cameras.  There are full frame variants of this lens, so don't get confused.  Speaking of full frame lenses, if you have an APS-C camera, make sure you buy lenses made for that sensor size.  There is no need to buy full frame lenses for a 24mm sensor, it just wastes your money.  

A few tips for shooting outdoor sports photography.  First you need to set your autofocus, on the Canon you should set the autofocus to the AI servo mode, on the Nikon, Pentax, and Sony you should use either AF-C or AF-A.   These autofocus modes help you track moving objects, when you focus.  Next you should set your mode dial, to S if you are using a Nikon or Sony, or Tv if you are using a Pentax or Canon.  This is shutter priority mode on your camera.  The general rule in photography is that you use a shutter speed that is equal to the long end of your zoom to shoot hand held.  So that means with an 18-300mm lens you need a minimum shutter speed of 1/300 of a second to prevent blurring.  This rule applies even with the image stabilization in your lens.  So make sure you set your shutter speed to 500.  This is a nice general speed that will freeze action and make sure there is no blur.  Remember 1/500 of a second is a starting point.  Dependent on where you are shooting you make need to adjust your ISO, so that you can shoot this speed.  If you are outdoors and it's cloudy or overcast set your ISO to either 3200 or 6400.   You might also need to drop the shutter speed 320. Understand that at higher ISO you will increase the noise(the grain like objects in your photo). Experiment with your camera to see what noise level you are comfortable with.  Noise can also be reduced in a program like Lightroom or photoshop elements. 

Shooting indoor sports photography is a lot trickier.  Dependent on where you're photographing your child, there may not be enough light to shoot clear pictures.  So to start you should increase your ISO to either 3200 or 6400.  Once again set your autofocus either to AI servo for Canon or AF-C or AF-A for Nikon, Pentax, or Sony.  You should set your mode dial to A.  This is aperture priority mode.  In this mode you set your aperture to the widest setting, so for the the 18-300mm you would set it to 6.3.  You may also need to adjust your white balance for either tungsten or fluorescent.  Make sure your optical image stabilization is on, as this will help shoot hand held at a slower shutter speed, also I found keeping your elbows close to your body helps keep your camera steady when shooting with a telephoto lens.  Lastly turn off your pop up flash. In most indoor settings you are too far away for the flash to be effective.  The ultimate problem with shooting this way is your shutter speed may be to slow to freeze the action so you may get lots of blur.  What about an f/2.8 lens you say?  Unfortunately, no one makes an  APS-C f/2.8 telephoto except for pentax.  So your only option is a full frame 70-200mm f/2.8.  As stated earlier I don't think using a full frame is worth it. Plus having a f/2.8 is helpful but it is no guarantee that you'll be able to freeze the action.  Ultimately you must decide, if spending a minimum of $1200 on a lens is worth shooting a few shots indoors.  In my opinion unless you're getting paid, the lens is not worth it.  I've also been asked about monopods and this is a tricky subject as well.  A lot of venues don't allow spectators to bring monopods or use them for safety reasons. Because of this I would say that you should not use a monopod indoors.   So my advice is try the steps here and see how your photos look.  If you can't capture the action try shooting when things are relativley still.  For example, if your child is preparing to shoot a free throw in basketball or team mates high fiving on a volleyball court.  Capture the emotion of the game.  See if you can capture your child celebrating a good play or talking with his/her coach.  If all else fails, try video taping the game.  All DSLR cameras have video capability so take advantage of it.  Make sure you set your mode dial to P and start filming.  Having video is not a perfect solution but it's better then nothing.

Some final thoughts for you about sports photography.  Always try to capture the ball in frame to give context to your picture.  Anticipate the action.  For example, if you child is on first base and you think the steal sign is given get ready to capture the action at second base.  Don't ignore the quiet moments,  like your child sitting on the bench with their friends, warm up drills, or waiting in the on deck circle for their turn at bat.  Be mindful of your surroundings.  Balls and pucks have a strange way of always finding the person holding the camera, so pay attention.  Don't get to close to the field of play, you don't want to become part of the action.  Lastly enjoy your child's sport moment and have fun.  




New Cameras from the CP+ show

February 13, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Every photographer is different.  We each have our own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.  But I believe that every photographer definitely has two things in common.  One, of course, is a passion for the art of  photography, capturing that perfect moment.  The other is, we all love our gadgets and tech toys.  Which is why February is one of our favorites months.  Not for Valentine's Day but because it officially kicks off the trade show season for our industry.  The time of year that all the new equipment is unveiled.  First up in the trade show parade is CP+, Japan's largest photography trade show.

Canon was the big dog at the show.  They introduced a lot of  new cameras and a new lens.  But the stars of the show were the Canon 5Ds and the Canon 5DsR.  Both cameras sport a whopping 50 megapixel full frame sensor.  The difference between the two cameras is that 5DsR doesn't have an anti-alias filter, which in theory gives you sharper picture at the expense of moire (moire is wavy stripes that appear when in your photographs when you shoot naturally occuring patterns).  From a tech geek point of view these cameras are pretty cool.  50 megapixels in a portable body for under $4000 is a neat trick.  From a practical stand point these are specialty cameras which are intended for a narrow niche because most people honestly don't need 50 megapixels.   The 5Ds will set you back $3699 and the 5DsR will cost $3899.  For those of you looking for something practical, Canon also introduced to new Rebel cameras.  The Rebel T6i and T6s both have 24 megapixel APS-C sensors. The T6i wll cost $799 and tack on an extra $100 for the T6s.  These entry level camera's represent pretty good upgrade over the older Rebel models. What's the difference between the two?  They are almost identical and the difference is subtle.  Basically if you're a person who likes to control the functions on the camera the T6s is for you.  On the other hand if you like things simple, and don't want a lot of buttons to worry about, the T6i is for you.

Nikon also introduced a new specialty camera the D810A. The camera is designed for astrophotography.  The specs are identical to the D810 which has a 36 megapixel full frame sensor.  But the infra-red fliter has been modified so it sees the lights from the stars and nebulas better and it gives better long exposures.  For all you well heeled stargazers this camera is for you.  Expect a price in the range of $3000 to $4000.

Pentax also introduced a new camera, the Pentax K-S2.  This is nice little entry level camera comes with a 20 megapixel, APS-C sensor.  It has wi-fi, fully articulated LCD, and is weather resistant.  It will cost $799 when it is released.  The nicest thing about this camera is it still uses the k mount. So anyone who still has older legacy lens from when they shot a Pentax film camera can use this new camera with their old lenses.  For those of you who are waiting for a full frame Pentax digital camera, Pentax said that they are working on one and it may make an appearance by the end of the year.

Last but certainly not least is Olympus.  Olympus has released the new OM-D E-M5 Mark II.  It has 16 megapixel micro four thirds sensor.  Early reports indicate that this camera is pretty good upgrade over the well respected previous model.  I'm not a huge fan of the micro four thirds mirrorless cameras but Olympus makes nice cameras and they look great.   This beauty will cost $1099 when it's released. 



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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