26 Mar, 2014
Tech Tips 10/14 - Better do a trip!


Mount Taranaki region, New Zealand 2009


If budget is limited don't spent your money on a new camera, spend it on a new trip. It's of much greater value to bring back new images with your old camera than shooting the same area, often your neighborhood, with a new one. Plus the images themselves won't be any better either. They may be bigger, sharper or with less noise but a boring image will always stay boring, no matter how expensive the camera is. It's much wiser to pick a destination and try to improve your photo taking abilities on the trip, learn to compose, to handle light, find out what's the best time of the day to take pictures or try to make interesting images of normal every day scenes. Reflecting before taking the picture will have a much bigger impact on your photos than having more Megapixels. Having expensive gear makes you feel less relaxed, too, because it really won't be the camera then when your photos stink ;-) ...


Happy shooting ...





5 Mar, 2014
Tech tips 6/14 - 10bit colour and HD resolution


Do you need a 2.000 € high-end 10bit colour monitor for photo editing? Maybe. I'm using an 8bit Dell U2412 for 250 € and I'm very satisfied. Prints often turn out different to your screen somehow anyway, so there's not really much use in ultra precise colour for me. I think it's far more important to see how images look on 99,9 % percent of the screens we look at everyday, especially on our smartphones, that's 8bit RGB colour. There's a lot of money to be saved on things others make us believe were necessary ...


People get ecstatic about their high resolution HD TVs. Do they know that even Canon's cheapest little camera, the Canon IXUS 145 for 90 € still has 8 times the resolution? This is called the megapixel myth. The 2 MP HD resolution we all love are good enough for most everything. 36 MP are impressive but don't make your photos any better ...


Update: Canon silently released a new pocket camera, the Powershot S200. The S120 is still my top recommendation but the S200 could to be as good for most people. It seems like Canon took an old S110 and added some useful things while some are missing compared to the S120 to make people buy the more expensive one who don't know better. The S200 can't shoot RAW, so I wouldn't buy it, but 99% of the people don't use RAW anyway for which you need expensive programs in most cases. The S200 is lighter and has a better Image Stabilizer and everything you need for fast photo sharing via wifi. For 280 € as of March 2014 it's my top pick for nomal people who just want great images. You can tweak them to your liking on your phone or tablet using VSCO Cam for example. It's lighter and smaller than the S120 making it even more portable. I think it's a really great little secret bargain for the smart shopper who doesn't want to fiddle around with RAW that slows everything down, is uncomfortable and takes more storage space. Highly Recommended! For tips on which camera to buy, read my article What camera to buy and why.


Maybe someday I buy some of these NEC 30" displays ;-)





20 Feb, 2014
Tech Tips 5/14 - Data Security



If you worry about your data, think of all your information in categories from confidential to public. I do that and it gives me peace of mind.


Everything digital that I really care about I only store locally on my computer and on encrypted hard drives. I use mail servers located out of the US to be sure national data privacy is effective (NSA spying is not taken into account). I once talked with T-Mobile and asked them how they store geo data. They were astounded and said they didn't store it at all because we're in Germany and not in the US. Everything I put in iCloud, especially Calender, Notes or Pages in the Cloud, I agree somehow to that being stored and reused by third parties potentially. That's not great but hey, those services are for free and in the end the only thing people want to do with those information is make money by placing personalized advertising. Fair enough, I can stand that.


Everything else that I want nobody or only my closest people to know I simply don't put on the internet and not even my computers at all, I write it down, talk to them in person, call them or write SMS, simple. It's just a matter of awareness and carefulness, not a big deal. We need to overcome laziness from time to time.


If you want a secure Cloud service use Wuala, it's the safest there is. It's as safe as storing locally on your computer. If you have digital data you need to store the safest way possible put it on an AES-256-encrypted hard drive and only connect to your computer when you're not connected to the internet. It's pretty impractical but very safe.





7 Feb, 2014
Tech Tips 4/14 - A robust and serious backup strategy



The following is for Mac users in particular but the same applies to Windows as well, I just can’t recommend any special programs for Windows at the moment because I’m not using it. You have to look it up and try yourself whenever I mention a specific program for Mac.


Ok, do you care about backups? Not really? A lot of my friends don’t and I am trying to explain now why it can be fatal and how easy and cheap it is to backup.


First of all, what is a backup? It’s a copy of your original data on a different drive, a different physical hard drive other than the one that is in your computer. Some people, friends of mine, say they didn’t have valuable data so they don’t care. But they probably haven’t experienced any hard drive failure or let down before.


If the hard drive of your main laptop fails all your data stored on it is gone. Sometimes it would be possible to recover it but cost would be enormous so I don’t take that into consideration. If you haven’t backed up your data, all your files will be gone forever. Even if I had no valuable data the snapshots I took with my cameras over the years are reason enough to backup because I would be incredibly sad if I lost them.


Hard drives fail from time to time, same as nuclear power plants. Not terribly often but of the 12 drives I bought over the years 2 seriously failed, and I’m only buying quality drives like those from Western Digital.


Ok, I recommend anybody to backup, letters, photos, files, personal documents, programs, downloads, which are all much to important to risk a complete loss.


How should you backup? Seriously, I keep at least 3 copies of all my data (including the Master copy of my computer), one at a different physical location than the other drives, plus I use Time Machine for constant backup of temporary files, Carbon Copy Cloner as Clone solution for my boot drive and Wuala as Cloud Backup. What does all this mean and why is it important?


Three different copies in general are important because we have to consider a hard drive fail. If it happens and you only got one copy left you already find yourself in an uncomfortable situation of relying only on the last copy. Just in case pure coincidence caused a drop of this last backup drive in a hurry or anything else went wrong you've lost everything as well. It’s very unlikely that two rare accidents happen at once but you never know. So three complete copies of your data is mandatory in my opinion, every extra copy is more of a prevention of unlikelihood.


It’s important to store one of the three copies at a different physical location as the others because there are cases where both or all three copies would go lost at once. One could be your house burns down, another could be all your stuff gets stolen from your flat. If that happened and you had all your copies at home you were screwed. A good and easy way is to store your third copy at a friend’s place or in a locker or your parents’ house. I am using an extra drive with the temporary third copy to bridge the times during which you can’t backup on the far away location. This transport drive is additionally helpful for rearranging storage or temporarily delete from one drive before you save to another for example.


What kind drives do you need? I’m buying Western Digital and trust them. Seagate seems to be good as well. I’m generally using three small 2,5“ drives (extra transport drive and Time Machine/Clone drive) to be able to take all my data with me and easily connect without need of extra power supply. Because 2,5“ are more expensive (small size) the other two drives I’m using are 3,5“ drives. They are much cheaper. You have to calculate how much data you have, how likely it will fill up, so how much you need in the future and give a little extra space on top. I have 1,8 TB of data in total so at the moment 2 TB drives are fine but I will have to extend storage space later this year again. Generally I would recommend to buy 1 or 2 TB drives, the bigger they are the cheaper they are per TB, there are also 4 TB drives. 1 TB drives are very cheap if that’s enough for you.


Alright, we got at least three drives now (including your computer). How do you back up now? The easiest way is to use Time Machine with Macs. You just plug the external drive in and set the drive as backup volume. Your Mac does the rest. If you keep the drive attached the Mac makes an updated copy every hour. It’s incredibly handy and gives you peace of mind. And you can set more than one drive as Time Machine Volume and backup to the other drives manually when you plug those in. It’s actually the easiest way. BUT, some people, for example Lloyd Chambers, say Time Machine was unreliable sometimes. He doesn’t trust Time Machine any more than as a constant temporary extra backup. I believe him and think it’s a good idea to use dedicated Clone programs for real backups. Another disadvantage of Time Machine is that it’s not bootable. In case of a faulty drive in your computer other programs let you boot from your external drive and you can keep on working without any loss at all. You simply swap the faulty drive and be set.


The safest way and best program I know is Carbon Copy Cloner for Mac or something similar for Windows. It doesn’t matter if you're using only one master drive in your computer or different partitions with a separate boot drive for system and programs like I do, so I need an extra backup drive for that.


My recommendation is to keep one drive attached for hourly Time Machine backups (you don’t need to do that, but I remember how annoying it is sometimes to be thrown back only a couple of hours). Partition your first backup drive into one Time Machine partition and one for regular Clones or use two separate drives for that. Use Carbon Copy Cloner once a day or whenever you think a backup was necessary. CCC makes a complete bootable Clone of your computer on the external drive. Do this Clone backup to the backup drive that you have in your flat, the Clone drive with the Time Machine backup partition, you may as well only use the Time Machine backup at home. I don’t do that as mentioned above, it’s a matter of personal security threshold. And use the fourth recommended transport drive to backup the third copy that you take with you all the time or leave it somewhere away from your flat, f.e. your office, during the times you can't do the proper third backup to the far away backup drive. Carbon Copy Cloner is not very practical for the far away drive because you might not always have your computer with you to do the Clone but the transport drive. You just copy the new files manually to the far away drive. The great thing about Carbon Copy Cloner and Time Machine itself is they make incremental Clones/Backups so they only add new stuff after you have run a Clone/Backup for the first time, that makes it pretty fast, too, especially when you have USB 3.0 connection.


If you buy a WD drive they come with hardware protection so you can set a password to make access to your data reasonably difficult. If you really have valuable data that nobody else should be able to see use TrueCrypt, a program that lets you encrypt your drives with the latest security standards. I have my mobile drives encrypted with AES-256 encryption. Nobody who finds the drive will be able to access.


Phew, what else to tell, let me summarize to make sure I got everything.




1. Calculate how much data you have and how much you need in the future. Buy at least two (ideally three backup drives, one small transport drive) of f.e. 2 TB each, one 2,5“ and one 3,5“ (about 200 €).


2. Partition the drives or use separate drives for Clone and Time Machine, recommendation: Set the mobile 2,5“ drive to one partition using Time Machine, f.e. 500 GB.


3. Let Time Machine make a backup on the mobile 2 TB drive. Clone twice to the other partition or drive and the 3,5“ drive.


4. Now you got 3 copies plus Time Machine, your computer as the Master, a partition of the mobile drive as Time Machine drive and the other partition as first external Clone backup and the 3,5“ external drive as second Clone backup of your Master computer. You may include a transport drive as fourth drive for rearranging drives, deleting and as temporary backup drive.


5. Leave the mobile drive attached to let Time Machine make constant temporary backups and clone once a day or whatever you consider an appropriate interval to make clones to the other two drives. Use the fourth transport drive to bridge the times you can’t backup to the far away drive.




Hope it helped.


Keep it safe …





6 Feb, 2014
Photography - What makes a great photo?



What is it that makes a great photo?


The answer is nearly as difficult as the one to what great art was. Photography has so many different types and genres that it‘s quite hard or nearly impossible to define a special type of photograph that is great. You could pick hundreds of completely different photos that could be all great in a different way.


The quality of a photo lies in the eye of the beholder. One photo may be great to me but pretty average to others. But I can try to explain what impresses me about photos and how I as a photographer try to achieve a good photo.


When I think about photographers those like David LaChapelle or Gregory Crewdson come to my mind quickly, but it‘s more because they create impressive artworks, that are loud and in your face and stay in your mind. I do not particularly love them as photographers but more as artists. Their images have more of a painting or a staged play captured with one exposure. But to be honest it‘s actually not what I love about photography.


Great photography to me means capturing a moment, to freeze life in one photograph. That creates a whole lot of different scenes you can imagine to fit that purpose. It can be a portrait of a person that is happy and the capture of this happiness, during a wedding or just a stranger in a restaurant. It can be a sport event and a fascinating moment of the hit of the ball. It can be a sad moment in your family. It can also just be the sky and a crazy formation of clouds. It can also be a flower and its intriguing colours. It may as well be just a normal daily street scene in your hometown.


The subject doesn‘t really matter, life gives you endless opportunities to create a great photo. But what is it that makes your photo stand out?


It‘s hard to define one way that makes a photo great, I think there are many. Let me give you an example, a photo of a woman I shot in Vietnam. To me it's pretty much a perfect portrait. I saw this beautiful old woman in a little village. She allowed me to take her photo. Not only does she look amazing, it's also her clothes and this perfectly balanced background that just emphasized her magnificent expression. You could have done the same in a studio with someone casted and pose this way. But the great thing about this image is it's completely natural and I managed to just captured this graceful attitude. It's one of my most favorite portraits ever, I just love it.



But a photo of houses in Hongkong may be as interesting to you. What I like about this photo are those crazy lines that give it dramatic expression. I shot the image late in the day and the light was just perfect and created all shades of crazy colours. It's a completely different genre of photos and still I love them both in their own way.



A photo to me has to tell a story at best in an arty or powerful way. For example you can take a photo of someone in the streets by just point the camera straight towards her or him. But you can make it a better photo by including some of the surrounding into the photo in an interesting way.



You can try to compose a photo in a very symmetrical way to make it look more appealing. Photographing only straight lines sometimes make a great photo.



There are different factors each possibly contributing to a good photo. Subject may be one factor. A photo of a beautiful woman may be great just because it‘s a great looking person. But to me photographing obviously beautiful people or things often lead to not so interesting photos although the subject may be interesting. That‘s why I never really liked photographers like Helmut Newton or Peter Lindberg too much. Without a doubt you have to be recognized and proven to be a really good photographer to get the chance to shoot celebraties or Supermodels, but there‘s not such a great story behind it in the end.


To me a photo is more interesting when the person is not amazingly beautiful in the first place but becomes beautiful the way you take a photo of her/him and tell their story in one exposure, maybe by including some of the natural environment the person is working or living in. A photo to me is more interesting when you see someone on the streets that could be a Supermodel but simply isn‘t. I rode a bike on the countryside in Myanmar and passed this young woman. I turned around after a couple of meters and went back to take her photo. It‘s one of the most beautiful people I‘ve seen last year and on this trip. She was just sitting beside the street in a little booth to sell some goods to the village people. It‘s a completely natural portrait.



Good photos draw peoples attention and stay in their heads. But it‘s very difficult to tell what this special something has to be. Light for example plays a huge role in almost every photo and morning or evening light is much more pleasing because its softer and often gives interesting skies and colours.



Compostion has a huge impact on a photo. Placing a person or couple right in the middle of the frame is not as interesting as placing it on the sides or the bottom sometimes.



Timing is a key factor in making a photo special. To capture the exact moment of a unique situation sometimes make the photo a winner.



Sometimes it's simplicity that makes a photo powerful.



Very noisy images with lots of different things going on like in a street scene can be as interesting, too, though.



Sometimes it‘s one factor alone that make a photo good but often it‘s only a combination of all those factors that make a photo great.



I‘m very critical for example. One photographer that I am probably the most amazed of is Henry Cartier-Bresson. He used to shoot for Magnum, one of the greatest photo agencies in the world. Bresson's photos are outstanding. They often combine a very special moment in life with incredibly interesting people, his ability to hit the exact neccessary moment and an incredible talent in composing all this in an image you will never forget. Bresson is one of the very few masters that I consider an idol for me. And his images keep me hunting for those moments in life that are very, very hard to put into a photograph quite the same way. If you succeed you got a great photo, only others may tell if it was truly outstanding.



As photographer you always think you could have done better ...


I think this can only be a Part One of what makes a great photo, there's so much more to write about it ...





31 Jan, 2014
Photography - Quick dynamic range test


Today I just quickly made a new dynamic range test with my fullframe Canon 5D Mark III and my Olympus OM-D E-M5. Dynamic range is the spectrum the camera is able to record with a single image from bright highlights to dark shadows. I know that Canon is not the greatest regarding dynamic range, but it's not bad at all, you just have to be careful sometimes.


This is how the cameras' jpegs look. I shot both at the exact same settings (the base ISO of the E-M5 is 200, the Canon's 100, so I took that into account; they are similar regarding actual sensitivity, means they both give the same brightness for a scene at identical settings). The jpegs usually are somewhat limited in dynamic range and you can see that in the images below, most of the windows' detail is blown due too digital clipping at values over 255, it's pure white (with film you have a smooth shoulder characteristic in highlights, means you can pull back overexposed areas very nicely).






With digital the highlight range is much more limited and therefore you have to be careful, once white, always white. But you can pull back about a stop (one brightness level in photographic terms) in RAW images, you can see that below.


5D, I pulled back highlights and shadows at once to easily show dynamic range.




As you can see both cameras are able to recover highlight detail, and shadows can be opened nicely as well. The OM-D actually has a slight edge in highlights, shadows are about the same, the 5D shows much better colour and of course detail.


Here are crops from both highlights and shadows, Canon left, Olympus right.




and shadows


It's a shame, though, given the 5D is 2-3 times more expensive and has a four times bigger sensor (2x2 crop factor). I don't really know why Canon is losing in this regard. It's by no means bad, but with such a big sensor you physically should be able to achieve a wider dynamic range. Oh well, you always find a way to work around.


I'll show some samples comparing depth of field of a crop camera compared to a fullframe, in this case the physical difference will show, no doubt.





7 Jan, 2014
Tech - Tips 2/14


Bought a digital camera after Christmas? If you’re looking for serious stuff, you may read my recommendations here.


If you just want a great camera but don't have much money to spend, buy either used, use what you already have and try to improve your photography or buy just a small pocket camera, my most loved ones are Canon’s Powershots, in Germany there’s also the Ixus line (Powershots as well overseas), they are even smaller and somewhat more stylish. Those little point & shoot cameras are much better than your smartphone camera, because you have a zoom and a bigger sensor that gives better images in low light. On the other hand you can make great photos with whatever camera, even a smartphone. I believe iPhones have the best cameras.


A really great little camera is Canon’s S120. It’s a little more expensive than the rest but worth it. It has a bigger sensor than normal point & shoots and a brighter lens. My top recommendation stays a Panasonic LX7, though. It is a bit bulkier than the Canon but still quite pocketable, it has a much brighter lens, starting at f/1.4 but only slowing down to f/2.3 instaed of f/5.9 on the Canon when fully zoomed in. Its sensor is a tad bit better noise-wise. The lens is a bit wider at the wide end which you really feel, especially as you have a cool aspect ratio switch around the lens that gives you a little extra width when switching to 3:2 or even 16:9. And as of January 2014 it's cheaper than the Canon, too. I bought the LX7 at the beginning of last year and it still serves me very well.


What computer do you need? Seriously, any modern computer is fine to post process images from a little point & shoot. I’m using Mac for years and I love them for their ease of use, generally hassle free operation and speed, they just go (I don’t like Apple for a lot of other things, producing in China for example, but there’s simply no alternative, all major manufacturers have outsourced to Asia to save money).


Anyway, if you care about the environment, buy a MacBook Air, the 1.3 GHz base model is fine. The new Haswell ones have super long battery life and very low voltage processors. With a 54 Wh battery my 1.7 GHz Air lasts 12 hours or much longer, depending on workload (when processing images with Lightroom and Photoshop it's good for around 7 hours nonstop). That’s amazing, a full-fledged computer that only draws 5 Watts on average, great for your power bill as well. 


You may also take a Retina MacBook Pro, the 13“ with the new Haswell processors are particularly attractive. They don't have much more power than the Airs but you can get them with 16 GB of RAM which makes them much more future prove (strongly recommended to max out RAM because you can’t upgrade later, that’s too bad/idiotic!). The Retinas obviously have a much better display, honestly, though, I don’t have a problem with the Air display, and I kind a like the fact that it needs much less power with its 4 times less pixels. That means the Air has a much smaller battery and thus is considerably lighter than the 13“ Retina, making it much more portable. I am happy to walk around with the Air in my bag (and a light camera) for a pretty long time of the day. The upgraded Airs later this year will be even lighter.


If you really need power, more cores are essential to get serious work done. The 15“ Retinas of today are simply twice as fast for things like photo imports or exports, applying filters or effects to huge amounts of photos. Luckily I don’t have this kind of workflow, I’m still working on files individually. So I appreciate the speed of my desktop MacBook Pro and its 4 cores, but it's the 16 GB of RAM that are important to me.


If I had to buy one laptop now I’d probably take a 13“ Retina high-end with 16 GB of RAM and 256 GB storage.


When to buy? It’s always my recommendation to buy the moment you need the computer or tech device. Waiting for newer machines is almost always a waste of time where you could have enjoyed a new device already, Macs don’t get cheaper when new ones are around the corner anyway.


It gets different when you have a little time. I try to follow Intel’s Tick-Tock-strategy. Every year a new generation of processors is released but it’s only every two years that a new architecture (Tock) comes out that brings considerable speed and efficiency improvements compared to the moderate changes in Tick years in between, where only the chips shrink. The Sandy Bridge generation three years ago was a Tock year with incredible speed gains, nearly twice as fast as the Arrandale generation before. Ivy Bridge in 2012 was only a mild upgrade. Haswell in 2013 was a Tock and brought amazing battery life improvements last year.


Have a look at the energy monitor, when only doing some facebook and very lightly browsing the web you can get up to 20 hours (mostly idle with display at half brightness) out of one battery charge ...



It’s a great time to buy the new Haswell MacBook Pros now, the expected Broadwell chips later this year will only bring light improvements again, so you don’t have to wait for them. But there are new MacBook Airs coming this year. The platform is pretty dated and Apple is expected to release smaller and lighter ones in summer or fall. You may probably wait for the new Air. BUT, Skylake next year will be a Tock again with much better internals. I tend not to like the first generation of new Macs too much, because it always happens to be just a couple of month before much better processors come out. Skylake in 2015 will rock again!


Tablets by the way don't replace a laptop for me at all. They are much slower and multitasking is a pain. When I have a computer with me I always grab that in favor of the tablet. Latter are nice consuming devices, facebook, reading, videos, but no match for serious work.


Update (08.01.14):


I did a short real life power consumption comparison between my early 2011 Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro 15" (2.2 GHz Quad Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD) and my mid 2013 Haswell MacBook Air 13" (1.7 GHz Dual Core i7, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD) to give you an idea of how economical this new processors are. I charged both laptops to full charge (they have about equally fresh batteries, the Pro got its battery replaced in summer 2013, same time I bought the Air, but the Pro's battery is a good bit bigger, 77,5 Wh compared to the 54 Wh battery in the MacBook Air. That means you got 43,5 % more battery power in the Pro). I then disconnected them both from the power plug and used them doing the exact same things on both (both at half brightness). Here are the results:


Idling, doing nothing, either with Wifi turned on or off, the Pro consumes 8,6 W, the Air 2,5 W, that's 3,4 x lower power consumption in the Air. Opening and using apps like Photoshop, Lightroom or Chrome the Pro again consumed 3-4 times more power. With very light workload in the first hour, some Lightroom and Photoshop, staying on the main page of facebook most of the time, browsing around 10 different websites reading, the Pro lost 15,59 % of battery life (based on actual mAh measurements) during this one hour, the Air lost 6,09 %, that's 2,56 x longer battery life with this kind of workload. During the second hour I did even less, put both into stand-by for a while and read articles on both in the last 15 minutes. After 2 hours the Pro had lost 24,04 % of its full charge, the Air lost 10,06 %, that's roughly the same gap, 2,39 x better battery life with the Air. Given an over 30 % smaller battery (43,5 % bigger from the Air perspective) that's an amazing power efficiency of the Air. With light to super light workload (mostly reading articles) you can get 15-20 hours of battery life out of the Air. Plus as said above, less than 5 Watts average power draw is not only great for the environment, it's also great for your wallet!


Phew, so much tech talk again, I’m loving my blog ;-)





26 Aug, 2013
Photography - Quick snaps with the OM-D


Ha, three quick snaps from today strolling around in Mitte with friends from Switzerland. The Olympus OM-D is a great little camera and a lot of fun to shoot with. Have a look at the images first ...



The last one is the OM-D at ISO 10000 by the way ... seriously, if you want the best pro-like camera with everything you ever need, in a great looking, super small, super versatile body with heaps of great lens options, don't look any further.


It's in many ways better than a big DSLR with some unique features like 9 frames per second full resolution bursts or a very good electronic viewfinder that lets you check your shots immediately after capture without having to take the camera away from the eye, brilliant.


I will try to write a review soon ... you won't get as easy and as creamy subject isolation of course, necessary to set your images apart from digicams.


BUT, beside the right subject timing, lighting, framing and composition are key to a great picture in the first place, achievable even with a cellphone - it's all relative,


happy shooting ...





7 Aug, 2013
Photography - Dynamic Range


What does Dynamic Range mean? Dynamic range is more of a physical term, it describes the ability of a medium to record bright and dark values at the time. The human eye for example has a huge dynamic range. We can see details in scenes that contain both very bright and very dark things, for example things in a dark room inside on a bright day and at the same time see everything outside through the window in the sunlit garden with a single view.


In camera terms dynamic range is the ability to record those bright and dark areas with one single exposure, to record both detail in the highlights and the shadows in a contrasty scene. Imagine a dim alleyway on a sunny day. When you want the image to be bright enough to get details in the shadows with most digital cameras you will get a completely white sky, because their dynamic range is limited to something between 6 and 12 f stops.


What does f stops mean? F stops refer to the aperture values of the lens. On bright sunny days you would for example expose the scene with an aperture value of f/8 and an 1/800 second. One f stop brighter would be an 1/800s at f/5.6 (wider aperture) or a 1/400s at f/8. One f stop difference is double the light, double the brightness thus double the shutter speed or one aperture value higher to retain the same brightness on the medium. Brightness differences increase or decrease exponentially, two f  stops difference means four times brighter or darker the scene, four f stops means 16 times brighter or darker the scene. In real life for example things in bright sun light are sometimes 12 or 14 stops brighter than something in the shadow hidden somewhere behind a window in the same scene. Digital cameras are not able to record both values at the same time, because their dynamic range is limited.


What does limited mean and are there differences between different cameras? Dynamic range of a camera is limited by the highlights and shadows to be recorded. The limitation of highlights means things in a scene are too bright for the camera to be recorded, it‘s typically 3-4 f stops above middle grey. Digital cameras only display white when they can‘t record any brighter, that often means you get white skies in contrasty scenes on a sunny day, this looks very unnatural because our eyes behave so different. A work around this limited highlight range is to expose for the highlights, means you simply darken the scene to the value you find the hightlights to be well expose, to have enough detail and colour and look natural. But then you run directly into the other problem of limited shadow range.


Limited shadow range means things in the shadows are either too dark to be seen in the final image or they are too noisy to be acceptable. It‘s easy to brighten up scenes afterwards on the computer but brighten up detail also means brighten up noise. With big enough dark areas noise soon becomes obtrusive, so you can not brighten up scenes endlessly, noise is the limited. You have to decide what end of the dynamic range is more important to you and make a trade-off on the other end. Camera type also makes a difference. A very simple rule is the bigger the sensor the bigger the dynamic range. Digital cameras in cellphones are the tiniest so their dynamic range is the worst. White skies for example is one of the easy signs to see that a photo was taken with a cellphone. With DSLRs you get much better dynamic range quite comparable to film, which has a huge highlight range. You still don‘t get endless highlight range with DSLRs but their shadow range is much better than that of film. So you can expose for the hightlights and brighten up the shadows afterwards, something most cameras today do automatically, handy. You can even squeeze out a bit more range when shooting RAWs and post process later. With DSLRs you‘re typically able to record up to around 13 f stops with a single exposure. You may also do multiple exposures and merge images afterwards, so called HDR images. But I don‘t like those, to my eye they often look unnaturally processed, and the style of multiple frames for one scene doesn‘t fit with my understanding of capturing a moment, for some landscape shots, it‘s handy, though.


So finally, I show you two images that illustrate dynamic range quite well. The above is from a cellphone with burned out sky in the background, the second is from a big sensor camera, here an Olympus OM-D, that renders the sky quite nicely when pulling back highlights in post processing. Have a look ...



So, summarizing, with digital cameras you are limited in recording both very bright and very dark things in the same image. The bigger the sensor (camera), though, the more dynamic range you get, so with a DSLR you get enough range to display most of any scene‘s brightness levels. You won‘t get that with a cellphone, one big reason for me to shoot big sensors. Dynamic range is important to display natural images.


Happy shooting





6 Aug, 2013
Photography - Tips


Yeah! VSCO released Film Pack 04 today, a set of 117 Slide presets, something I've been waiting for since they started maybe two years ago. And it includes my favorite landscape film Fuji Velvia 50. 2013 landscape shots will rock! Looking forward to play around with it next week! This week I don't have reliable internet connection due to some travels, so my posts will be a bit delayed ...


Check out VSCO Slide, it's supposedly great as the three Packs before ...


See you later