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Is Image Noise Always Bad?

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The topic of image noise often surfaces when we talk about shooting at high ISOs with compact cameras. Usually the conversation veers in the direction of trying to prevent the noise and devising workarounds toward that goal. But, is image noise always bad?

When I was a film shooter, one of the reasons why I liked TRI-X B&W film was because of its grain pattern. I would often use this film in situations where I thought the grain would add an artistic element to the composition.

Now, when I'm out and about, I'm carrying a Canon G9 as my pocket camera. In the beginning I was dead set at keeping the ISO at 200 or less. But as I'm experimenting more with this camera, I'm cutting loose with the ISO dial and having fun with the images captured in low light. Take this shot for example. It was twilight and I had just a few seconds at the intersection to roll down my window and grab the shot. (Cars behind you don't like you composing the perfect shot while the light is green.)

Because the light was low, I had to up the ISO to 800 to prevent camera shake. Even at 800, the exposure was made at 1/50th @ f-2.8 while holding the camera in one hand. I knew there would be grain, and I'm OK with it here. When I return home, I'll make a couple big prints to help me better evaluate the image. But my first impression? Image noise isn't always bad.

"Twilight Intersection" Photo by Derrick Story with Canon G9.

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Winter Pattern Shots

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Winter presents some graphical opportunities for photographers with a keen eye. The combination of angled light with various forms of precipitation can make for some interesting abstract compositions.

Now that you've captured snapshots of family and friends during holiday gatherings, turn your lens outward and see what you can find. This shot of lingering frost in the shadow of a chimney was recorded with a Canon G9.

Photo by Derrick Story

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More Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas

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Sooner or later, it happens to us all. We have to pull together a nice gift for people we care about... at the last minute! We could re-gift, but somehow that feels wrong for this particular occasion. These folks deserve better. Something special. A handmade present.

One of my most popular articles this time of year is the original Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas. There are some good ideas there, so be sure to take a look. But wait... there's more.

Custom DVD of a Family Event -- Nearly everyone has a DVD player these days, and most of us have burner to create them. If you have a meaningful event in your photo archives, build a quick slideshow, burn it to DVD, print out a photo for the cover, and you have a custom present that will hold meaning for years to come.

Calendar by You -- iPhoto has a great calendar builder. It's designed to purchase through an online service. But you probably don't have time for that. So create your calendar, then use the Print command. When the print dialog box opens, choose "Save as PDF" from the PDF popup menu in the lower left corner. You'll now have a high resolution master that you can print out on your inkjet printer. (You'll have to print one page at a time and use paper that lets you print on both sides. Take a look at an existing calendar for the pattern.) Punch a few holes, bound with the appropriate material (such as twine for a harvest theme), and you have a *really nice* gift to share at present opening. You may even want to sign it...

Custom Note Paper -- All you need for this gift is some decent paper. Design a custom note page that leaves lots of room for writing. I like to put the name of the person receiving the gift in one corner with a nice little photo or graphic in the opposing corner. Print out the sheets so you can place "2 up" or "4 up" on an letter size sheet of paper. Then trim and box. You're in business!

And finally, I wish you and your family a happy holiday season. The best present of all is your presence...

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Helpful Shutter Lag Comparison Table

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Is shutter lag your number one concern when shopping for a compact camera? If so, you might want to take a look at Digital Camera Shutter Lag Comparison Table on Cameras.co.uk. TDS member Mark Brokering was researching this issue for a friend who wants a compact with minimal lag time. When Mark found the table, he sent me the link (thanks Mark!).

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Event Calendar

Events! See the TDS Event Calendar for photography workshops, speaking engagements, and trade show appearances.


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Gavin Stoker writes for PhotographyBLOG., "With the PMA photography trade show just around the corner and aggressive Christmas competition driving down prices, it’s surprising what kind of camera you can buy for less than £150 / $300. Take the Nikon Coolpix P50 for example -- 8 megapixels, 28-102mm wide-angle lens, vibration reduction, ISO 2000 and face detection is an impressive feature set for this price-point. We reviewed the Nikon P50’s more expensive brother, the P5100, a couple of months ago, and while it promised a lot on paper, it failed to really wow us. Can the Coolpix P50 avoid a similar fate?"

Three things jump out at me about this camera.. one, I like compacts that have the wide lens equivalent of 28mm. Combined with Face Detection technology, the Nikon P50 has the potential to be the perfect camera to capture pictures during the holidays. And third, it's a steal right now in the US, selling for $153 US on Amazon.

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Looking to Upgrade Your Canon DSLR?

With the PMA show around the corner in late January 2008, and the rumor mills in full churn about upcoming announcements, you might want to take all of this into consideration if you're in the market for a new Canon DSLR.

Canon 40D

Canon shooters are safe in the middle of the line up. The 40D was released in the Fall, and it is as solid and highly reviewed as they come. If you're looking to upgrade from a 10D, 20D, or even 30D, you're safe to buy now. Nothing new is going to happen in January for those mid-line bodies.

But if you're in the market to upgrade a Digital Rebel or EOS 5D, I'd hang on a few weeks. It's very likely that announcements for new versions of those cameras will come in mid-January 2008. There's no guarantee of course, but if you have the luxury of time, why not wait and see?

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DNG vs Raw Space Savings Chart

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I've done some testing with DNG files to see just how much hard disc space they save compared to Raw files. I worked with 8, 10, and 12.7 megapixel images from Canon DSLRs (Rebel XT, Rebel XTi, and EOS 5D).

First thing I noticed, there are only measurable file size savings if you don't embed a Jpeg (and obviously if you don't embed the Raw file too). My original Raw file sizes were 12.1, 8.7, and 7 MBs (5D, XTi, XT) and the corresponding DNGs with Large Jpeg previews were 11, 8.7, and 7.1 MBs. Some savings, but nothing to write home about.

But if I converted the Raw files without the Jpeg previews, the file sizes were a more svelte 9.7, 7.6, and 6.1 MBs each. That's fairly good savings, especially with the Canon 5D (12.1 vs 9.7 MBs) without any quality compromise.

Here's a table that shows you the overview (from my upcoming book, Digital Photography Companion). It provides you with the Raw vs DNG comparisons, and also full size Jpegs file sizes at both high quality and normal quality.

Common File Formats Table

Since my workflow centers around Aperture and Lightroom, I don't really see the need to convert my Raw files to DNG. The few times I have, is when I wanted to send a high resolution file with printing instructions embedded to another photographer for output. But for most of my needs, working with the original Raw files and outputting from Aperture or Lightroom to the working format I need seems to be serving me well.

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I was able to sit down with one of my favorite San Francisco photographers and talk about World Cup, the Olympics, shooting on assignment, and making the transition at the pro level from Kodachrome to digital.

In my interview with John McDermott, we cover all of this: life on the road, Raw shooting technique, Aperture and other software packages. John is a photographer's photographer, and I think you'll enjoy what he has to say.

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John Harrington has published a fun, informative, comparison of the Nikon D3 and the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. His review tackles noise issues, megapixel comparisons, tethered shooting, their LCD screens, and a host of other features. It's enjoyable reading, especially for those hungry for more information about these two flagship DSLRs.

After reading the piece, the only burning question that remains is... where did John get the cute boxing ring prop?

Photo © 2007 John Harrington.


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Event Calendar

Events! See the TDS Event Calendar for photography workshops, speaking engagements, and trade show appearances.


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If you want your shots of Santa to have rosy cheeks and your tree to be vivid green, then you'll be happy to read that Datacolor has released the new Spyder3Pro and Spyder3Print.

According to Datacolor: "The Spyder3Pro is a display calibration tool for serious photographers that includes the only colorimeter available on the market offering a seven detector color engine, with an aperture several times larger than other devices for increased accuracy and performance. It is designed to deliver more precise control over white point and gamma, and has easy-to-use features including a new Display Assistant that stores and easily retrieves all user device-specific information on each display to save time during recalibration."

You can get the Spyder3Pro for $170 US at Amazon

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