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Camera Nerd Questions

Upon request for my camera-loving followers to get their geek on, this is a Pentax K-S1 body, all photos taken with the 300mm zoom lens. (Bought on advice from camera-loving friend!) Need to save up for good macro lens...

I am reasonably okay at framing a shot, from the art side, and I can post-process fearlessly, but there my skills end--autofocus and prayer, all the way.

I am still getting comfortable with the camera, but so far, it's a lot better than my old one--or at least faster, and the lenses are better. I am told that with wildlife photos, good equipment and dumb luck are primary components, and I have the one in spades and can slowly acquire the other.

I suspect I will never be a great photographer, but I mostly aspire to utilitarian "And this is the thing I saw!" so I can live with that!

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"switching the autofocus to use the centre point only" - ::scribbles note to self to see if my little autofocus camera can do this::

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Adding to this whole thread, my two cents. I hope some of this is useful.

Locking AF so it doesn't automatically pick the focus point, and/or locking it to the center point is a great way to get better. Eventually you may get to the point of being able to switch focus points to the ones you want for the composition so you don't have to focus and recompose, but that's a lot extra fiddling that takes more time than animals may grant you. Letting the camera pick the focus point for you may also work in certain situations, so don't be beholden to there being only one way of doing things. There may also be a mode where the central point is the focus point, but once you've locked focus and the subject moves, the camera tracks the focus point as well. I know, AF can get kind of complicated... Play with it, see what works.

If your camera has a way to separate the AF function and put it on a thumb button instead of the shutter, you may play with that at some point too. Some people love it, some people hate it. There's no one-size-fits all in photography.

Similarly, not all cameras get slower with AF with multiple points enabled. Many also have some points that detect vertical and horizontal contrast, and some points that only detect one or the other. The center point usually is a good one. That being said, try finding an edge or something contrasty to focus on if the camera is having trouble.

Always focus on the nearest eye. (But you probably knew that, as well as composition.)

And yes, the faster and better the glass, the more accurate and faster the autofocus. It'll also let you use faster shutter speeds on account of having a wider aperture, which can be useful for anything that moves.

Tripod for macro is more useful than you might think, and look at home-brew off-camera lighting solutions. People are doing amazing insect and flower photography with all kinds of home-brew rigs.

If you can swing it, looking at something like Lightroom and shooting RAW will take a lot more time in the back end, but allows you to push good pictures a level further with relatively minor fixes in light levels, color temperature and dodging and burning.

something like Lightroom and shooting RAW will take a lot more time in the back end

My Pentax (so I'm assuming that ursulav's is the same) will take RAW and JPG at the same time. I love, love, LOVE this feature - all the high quality RAW files for later use and if I want the full resolution; but a set of 2MP .JPG files that I can stick on a website and quickly flick through. This really is the best of both worlds.

(I found that RAW only has a very high activation energy: it takes me forever to look through them and once I've got a RAW file open I want to tweak it, and that meant pictures piled up even higher than they do already.)

Yeah, I love shooting with things in manual focus, but not for birding.

I would put perhaps more emphasis on "edit your photos" otherwise you run the danger of taking the same photo a hundred thousand times. But it is definitely important to take lots of photos. Don't worry that most of them are crap--that happens to everybody, even professionals. Shoot lots, look at them, Think About What You've Done, move on. Pick rates in the double digit percentages may indicate that you're not being ruthless enough; I know when I was shooting 35mm I would count myself lucky to get one or maybe two good shots on a roll of 36, which is like 2-3%.

I had a 10% rate when I was shooting film: I would take pictures of landscapes and buildings and flowers and I could easily spend half an hour getting it just right.

I now have a rate of 2-3% and I take pictures of animals moving and insects in flight and crowd scenes and skateboarders doing tricks - I'm much bolder, much more experimental, I'm willing to waste not just one, but ten shots, I take pictures when the light is not ideal, when I can't get a good frame, and yes, I sometimes end up with ten good pictures of a butterfly or dragonfly or bumblebee which are only marginally different - but very often one of them is just that little bit better because the piece of grass is out of the way or the angle is perfect. I'd have been happy with any of them; but going digital means that the cost of experimentation is so low it's worth duplicating shots.

Yay for shiny new camera goodness, I know those who have their Pentaxes are a small but fiercly loyal subset of the greater camera ownership world.

And ooh a 300 mm lens, my longest is 200 so Im envious there.

I know with birding you can be in all sorts of conditions but you will bet better results if you set the ISO to the lowest setting, but you will have to change it up in low light. You could leave it on AUTO but then run the risk of the camera over compensating and getting quite grainy shots when you dont need that hi iso. And using a tripod helps.

When you are ready to go off AUTO it should have a P or Program mode where its still auto but you can change things on the fly for each image (like exposure, ISO and Aperture) and is a good way to start experimenting with the settings.

By all means ignore the people that say "the only real way to shoot is on full manual" those people are asshats and oblivious to the long slow learning experience that is photography :)

BTW I backed your Botswana KS :)

I know those who have their Pentaxes are a small but fiercly loyal subset of the greater camera ownership world

I love mine. One thing I love is the autostabilise function - 1/8th of a second is within my freehand range, which opens up a lot of shots.

And I've been pretty happy with the lack of noise at higher ISO, so it's worth experimenting and seeing where your personal cutoff point is.

I like to shoot on aperture mode because depth of field is usually my main consideration; if the shutter speed gets too slow, I manually adjust the ISO.

Get lightroom (if you don't have it already), and keep a close look on the histogram when post-processing to see what the dials do to it - that helped me a lot when I started post processing my pictures. The noise reduction alone is pretty much worth it, and you get a lot of control over the image.

See if you can use an adapter to get old M42 lenses to the pentax mount - sometimes there are old lenses that will be full manual, but are still nice to have. I have a 400mm lens from my grandfather that's older than me, but it still works fine.

And for macro lenses - get a set of extension tubes, they are really cheap, and you can start to play around with macro shots without an expensive lens. Control might be a bit awkward (unless they are the fancy ones that pass focus and aperture through to the camera), but still, you can get some very nice images that way. Maybe get a cheap full manual 50-ish lens with them, so you can setup aperture and focus easily.

So, what kind of tripod or monopod do you use?

Nothing wrong with manual photography, though, if you like that thing...
I do manual... Pinhole... pinhole photography onto B/W paper... all quite badly...
It's fun, though, to watch the picture slowly appear on the paper. ;-)

Doing manual with a modern digital camera?

Except switching the flash on and off where applicable, the only other setting you need to consider on most is if there's going to be a 'shutter click' or not... (Consider switching it off when getting close to wild animals)
And maybe, just maybe tinker with the ISO setting to 'push' it into using faster shutter speeds.
(Pictures will be grainier, though)

Why shoot in manual mode?

I would like to point out one time when a nature photographer would almost always be in manual (or at least aperture-priority) mode - closeups. I photograph a lot of insects, and the automatic modes work for crap at macro ranges. They either focus on the wrong thing, or open up the aperture too much. And because the depth of field in macro work is so shallow, this almost universally leads to poorly-focused and/or badly-exposed shots (and on top of that, the default flash modes don't work well close-up either). So I'm almost always running in aperture-priority, and manually focusing the lens, with various diffusing/reflecting tricks to make the flash work right.

Re: Why shoot in manual mode?

And there I learned something new ;-)

Never really done any macro photography...

I love my Pentax cameras. I only have the K20-D, but for the combination of good glass and smallish in a DSLR you can't beat Pentax.

Granted, I mostly take pictures of centuries-old stone buildings*, many of which have been falling down since the 16th century, but I still love my cameras.

*buildings are much easier to shoot, in general, than is wildlife, as they are easier to find (being large and generally stationary) and usually hold still very nicely for the camera.

Good glass and smallish?
Sounds like an Olympus...

I remember an outing the school photo club had in the early 90s...
Those poor slobs carrying Canon and Nikon cameras for miles...
(Add bags with lenses, a tripod capable of supporting their cameras and so on)
And me with my Olympus OM-10, lenses and a lightweight aluminium tripod...

Have you tried fooling around with a pinhole camera and either B/W film, or B/W paper when photographing old ruins?
Sure, you can end up with shutter times in the range of 'a few seconds, or even minutes', but the buildings aren't running away, and...
A decent Pinhole is focused from 6" to infinity.
Might do interesting things to shadows and.

My favorite is the ONDU 'Sliding box' pinhole camera:
(Limited edition, KS only)

Another is my Zenit Horizon panoramic. One click and you have a 120degree picture. no stitching, no weird broken lines or people appearing in multiple spots... A pain in the seating area to thread the film, though.
Good oldfashioned Russian quality. Lenses is based on a 28mm spy camera... 10% of an entire year's production run was without coating, and generally, 10% of the rest are broken in some way or another before you get it. (Failed light seals mostly)

Good glass, smallish, DSLR, affordable...

I shoot for primarily research purposes, rather than artistic, in lousy light conditions, so I need a fast lens with shake reduction (many historical sites and museums in England don't allow tripods, as for some reason they seem to think that tripod==professional) in a DSLR that's small enough for my teeny hands even after adding the external battery pack. So, Pentax it is.

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Most serious birders seem to end up with lenses that look like a bazooka. The price tag for that is one of the reasons I focused on landscapes...

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