Thursday, April 24, 2014

Samsung NX300: Tripods and Monopods

One of the essential items you will add to your photographic equipment is a tripod or monopod or both.
You need to take into account the weight of your camera with its heaviest attachments e.g. flash, largest lens etc.  A tripod is something you should invest in properly and while some cheaper tripods may work for point and shoot cameras, I would suggest investing in a decent one for your Samsung NX300.

I have a heavy duty tripod for my Canon because the weight combined with my 100mm macro tends to cause the camera to creep down on cheaper tripods/heads.  Not a good thing for photo stacking.  The Samsung NX300 is much lighter and as I can't easily carry the heavy duty tripod around I have a lighter, more compact one and a monopod.

A monopod is a single leg version of a tripod and is meant to provide more stability than handheld but doesn't provide complete hands free stability as a tripod.  It is lighter than a tripod, more compact and you will see many photographers using one.

The monopod I use is a Redged RMA-528 combined with a Redged RT-1 Professional Ball head.  The monopod itself can handle a max weight of 10kg while only weighing 0.45kg, the ball head can hold max 6kg while only weighing 0.3kg.  This monopod can easily handle the weight of the Canon and Samsung.

http://www.clikelite.co.za/products_ecwid.asp#!/~/product/category=2912989&id=12790539
http://www.clikelite.co.za/products_ecwid.asp#!/~/product/category=2912990&id=12790553

Now I once asked about getting a ball head for a monopod at a store not so long ago (before I bought the Redged series) and was given this funny look. "Why would you need a ball head for a monopod?  It's a waste."  The salesman had the typical attitude many new and old buyers face "I know more than you".

He and others also proceeded to tell me that only their balls heads will work with their tripods/monopods and other brands won't.

Suffice to say, I didn't buy from them and moved on.  As I walked to another stand I was greeted by one of the Redged team, who was at the Clik Elite stand at the Photo & Film expo, with great enthusiasm and friendliness.  I asked him the same question "Can I use another brand's ball head with your monopod?".

Expecting the same answer I was surprised when I heard him tell me that yes, I am more than welcome to use any other brand with their tripod and monopods.  SOLD.

I could only get the monopod at that stage and later bought the ballhead from Clik Elite.  For the quality and max load, both are of excellent value and I am extremely happy with my purchases.

What the others were telling me was nothing but a marketing ploy to get me to pay more for their brand.  Good thing I like to look around for the best price first.

For the Samsung NX300 you don't need such a max load but it's a good thought if you intend to add more attachments.  You can look at Manfrotto, the MM 394 for example: Takealot.  But adding a Manfrotto head to the monopod is pretty expensive depending on load max weight: http://www.ormsdirect.co.za/manfrotto-234rc-monopod-tilt-top-head.

Another alternative is the combined tripod and head where the head is permanently attached.  The max load for both starts at around 1.5kg for good but lower priced kits.  I found that the Manfrotto MKC3-H01 (the H02 is exactly the same except for the colour) works fine for the Samsung NX300 with my largest lens, the 18-55mm, attached.  It's light, portable and the tripod head moves smoothly with the ability to use for video and panning.

This isn't the full length, only two sections were opened.  There are 4 sections and the middle pole also extends.

When the legs are not extended, works well for table photography.

The head is controlled by one handle instead of two or three but this means you can't make fine adjustments.  Still, you get quite a lot of flexibility and can change position with one hand.

Something to note.  Apparently some people have been confused by this black cap.  This needs to be removed in order to fit the standard thread size for the camera.  It twists off, but keep it safe and make certain that the screw beneath it doesn't come out.

I'm used to the ability to pull the legs outward in order to get to a lower level and also rotating the middle pole.  But you can't do either with this tripod so for me that took some adjusting.  If you need to take a photo of something low on the ground you are going to have elevate the object of your photo.

A good tripod for the Samsung NX300, good enough that you won't need a monopod or anything else for stability.  It doesn't come with a bag but you can get buy bags separate however it might make carrying the tripod a bit bulky.  It would have been nice to have a bag for storage but hey, get creative and make a basic one of your own (old denim works).

Where to buy:
http://www.takealot.com/cameras/manfrotto-mkc3-h01-compact-photo-movie-kit-black,30118772

Here is a more indepth review: http://www.trustedreviews.com/manfrotto-mkc3-h01-tripod_Camera-Accessory_review_performance-and-verdict_Page-3

Monday, April 7, 2014

Samsung NX300 Smart Mode: Panorama and Creative Shot

I'm going to be doing a bit of a mix in this article.  I haven't had a chance to play with the other settings between Panorama and Creative shot but will get to them soon.  Some settings work for specific situations that we don't encounter on a day to day basis so I will have to get creative for the other modes :-D.  However, the following modes are two of my favourites in the Smart Mode.

Panorama

A Panorama is a set of stitched photos that create a wide angle view.  Works great for Landscape but also for times when you can't fit everything in and don't have the luxury of a wide angle lens.  Photo manipulation software has a set feature for this or you could line up the photos manually but that can be time consuming.

I will agree that in camera Panorama features are not perfect and would be considered a quick fix but I've been pretty happy with the results from the Samsung NX300.

When you select the Panorama function you will see blue arrows on the screen pointing to the top, bottom, left and right with the words "Press the shutter button once and move camera to one side slowly".

Now if you were like me, you did exactly what the camera told you to do and pressed the shutter button once and let go.  The camera then told you that it didn't detect movement so the feature was stopped.  The "Help" description is not very helpful and unless you take a quick look at the manual you won't know what you are doing wrong.

So, press the shutter button and hold it down while moving either left, right, up or down.  You will see a rectangle on the bottom of the screen which will fill up with the stitched photos as you move the camera.  Try and keep the camera steady but the NX300 isn't too fussy if you are slightly shaky however if you move the camera in the opposite direction the feature will stop but the camera will save what it has taken.  If you don't move the camera a photo will still be taken.

Give the camera a chance to catch up to you as it stitches the photos together before releasing the shutter button else it will stop short of where you want it to.  You can do this by watching the rectangle as the photos are recorded.

There is an option under Menu, Panorama for 3D Panorama (besides Live Panorama) but this will only work with the 45mm 3D lens.

No editing done on this photo, straight from camera.

The photo above is a perfect example of a wide angle view that would be impossible with a normal lens like the 30mm.  The 18-55mm is a wide angle but I wouldn't have been able to get the photo above without the Panorama feature. Taken at the SAAF Museum.

As you can see, the stitching is seamless and even when checking at 200% I couldn't find any fault. The disadvantage, well for me anyway, is the JPG only file but it's a very small disadvantage.  I wasn't one for Panoramas because it was too time consuming even if PSE10 did a fair job of aligning the photos.  But now I'm thinking otherwise and happily use the Samsung Nx300's Panorama feature.

The NX300 chooses all settings as with all the Smart Modes but I don't mind giving up my personal choices with this feature.  Does a nice job of exposing although the photo above could use a bit of tweaking with levels and colour.  Maybe a little more definition with Topaz Labs Clarity.

Planes on the runway.

Photo 1 With editing

Photo 1 shows how the Panorama feature becomes extremely useful.  My only option of a wide angle lens is the kit lens 18-55mm (which I didn't have with me that day).  Using the Panorama feature enabled me to get the entire plane in a single photo without having to stand a far distance away. 

Continuous focus (Under Menu, AF Mode) is not available, only Single AF and Manual AF.  This is to prevent the camera continuously focusing while you are moving.

AF Area and Touch AF are also unavailable meaning that you can't select the focus point or touch to select focus on the screen.  So make sure that your starting point is clear and has enough contrast for the camera to pick it up in order to focus on it.

If you struggle to get focus on the area you want, you may need more light or need to center the subject/object in the middle of the screen. 

When using the Panorama Feature you may have an issue where, as you move, some areas might not be in focus.  This depends on where the focus was placed and what aperture the camera has selected.  For example, in a small room you may encounter a problem if the aperture is set to f2 as there will be a shallow depth of field.

The camera will judge the lighting conditions and how close the subject/object that it focuses on is.  If lighting is low, then it will use a wide aperture (e.g. f2) which will cause a shallow DOF. As said above, you will have a problem with a small room and if your starting point is closer to you than the rest of the room. Anything the same distance as your starting point will be clear but everything else outside that focus area will be blurred.

That is where manual Panoramas take the advantage.  Just keep in mind that the feature works best for wide areas that are not close-up.  The feature doesn't have AE/AF lock (Auto Exposure/Auto Focus) so you can't lock in either to keep exposure and focus consistent.

It doesn't mean you can't make a panorama of a small room.  For that I would suggest taking a set of photos and using software like Photoshop Elements to stitch the photos together.  It will take some work but some people love creating panoramas. The following link should give you an idea and even though it's for PSE 9 the same principles apply for any later versions.

http://www.techradar.com/news/software/applications/how-to-create-photoshop-panoramas-in-elements-9-919448

I started with the videos which were right next to me and started moving to my right.  As you can see, the focus was lost as soon as the distance between me and the camera increased.  The NX300 had selected f2 as I was in a low light condition.

In this photo you will see another problem you may encounter with being too close, bulging.  I was standing in the middle of the yard and started panning from my left to my right.  The left and right sides were further away from me, so the middle appeared to bulge.  Also, not everything was in focus for example, the Marigold at the column are slightly out of focus.

Standing further back decreased the bulge a bit and shooting a different angle looked better. 

 The camera chose f4 which kept most of the photo in focus but as I panned from left to right, the further the rest of the garden was from me the less was in focus.

Since JPG format is used for the Panorama feature the Samsung NX300 will process the photo in camera and remove fringing and artifacts that may sometimes be caused.  Basically hassle free photos.

Oh, I nearly forgot to add this in.  Here is an example of using the Panorama feature on a waterfall where instead of moving the camera to the left or right (as with the photos above), the camera is moved up or down.  In the photo of the waterfall below the camera is moving up. I didn't turn the camera on its side, just held it the same way as for the other panorama photos above. When you move the camera up or down the rectangular box appears on the right hand side.



You will have noticed that when you go into playback mode the photo resembles a movie with a play button.  When you press OK the photo runs from one side to the other "panning", allowing you to take a closer look at your shot.  You still zoom in to look but not while this panning action is happening. 

You pause the panning action by pressing OK.  If you press OK again the panning will start again.  Once paused you can manually move around using the navigation left and right buttons.

The Panorama Feature does have its limitations as shown above but still effective when those limitations are taken into account while composing a photo.

Creative Shot

With this feature the camera chooses the settings and applies a filter/effect it feels is appropriate. Sounds like a recipe that can go wrong very quickly and yet has given me some really beautiful shots. I did have one or two photos that made me cringe a bit when the camera was over zealous with the vignette filter.

So how do you know what setting it will choose?  On the top left where you normally see the shooting mode you will see the icon change.  If the icon is blue, has a camera with a paintbrush you can expect to see a vignette on the photo even those this seems to be the icon for Creative Shot.  

Take a look at your manual, pages 54-55 and those yellow icons are what will be used during Creative Shot.  So far I have seen the following icons: Landscapes, Landscapes at night, Landscapes with backlighting, Close up photos of objects and Close up photos of text (even though I was taking a photo of a flower).  

You won't be able to see what icon was chosen after the photo was taken but you can see what settings were used by going to playback mode, selecting the photo and pressing DISP.

The following examples are taken straight from camera i.e. no levels, no colour, no enhancements. I wanted to show the feature without any manipulation by software.

A case of where the vignette works beautifully.  The camera didn't select a yellow icon but stayed with the Creative Camera icon (blue with camera and paintbrush).

I can't remember what the Samsung NX300 chose for these two but a shallow DOF and vignette was applied.

I cropped this photo.  Landscape was selected here, which boosted the blues and greens.

In the first photo the NX300 placed the focus on points closest to me.  In the second photo I touched the screen and placed my focus area where I wanted.  Camera also stuck to its camera and paintbrush icon which applied a vignette.

Close Up Objects was selected by the NX300 for this shot but you also see that a vignette was applied.

I wanted to post a photo showing how sometimes the feature may not work as hoped but the Samsung NX300 refused to misbehave and kept giving me great shots lol.  

Drive is either Single or Timer with no Continuous as an option. It means that you won't be able to take more than one photo at a time but time between shots is quick (about 2 seconds).

Only JPG format is available but there is a large amount of praise about the NX300's ability to process JPG format with great success.

Manual Focus (found under AF Mode) is not available, you won't even find AF Mode under Menu with Creative Shot. Shallow DOF for close up objects is favoured so I'm guessing that as part of the creativity, the camera literally calls the shots with one focus option.  But you can select the area of focus by touching the camera screen. 

Aperture and Shutter Speed are adjusted accordingly. When the camera detects a landscape scene everything is kept in focus so you won't be stuck with shallow DOF. There isn't anything really you can do to change what effect the camera chooses in Creative Shot unless you change to another shooting mode.

Settings are pretty limited in Creative Shot, probably one of the more limited of the modes under Smart Mode.  Still, a feature for the creative mind.  Well, ok, the camera does most of the work but don't forget that the composition is all you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Samsung NX300 Smart Mode: Macro, Action Freeze and Rich Tones

Macro

Macro is my area of interest with photography and after working with a macro lens for years, I was expecting results from this mode.

I'm sorry to say it's not what I would call wow.  I used the Macro Mode and then duplicated the settings in Manual and came up with the same result.  Macro gives a shallow depth of field meaning only a small area is in focus.

Taken with 30mm lens.

The Macro Mode doesn't do you much good if your lens will only let you get so close (unless the lens has macro capabilities).  The 30mm wouldn't let me get closer than around 15cm (if you are measuring from the end of the lens to the object).  But, the 18-55mm has the advantage here because you can get as close as the lens will allow you (in this case around 9cm) and then zoom in.  Below is an example, no editing was done and is straight from the camera in low light.

The Macro feature keeps the aperture at its widest for example, the 30mm's widest aperture is f2.  This allows for more light but also decreases your depth of field, keeping a small area in focus and blurring out the rest.  This area of focus also depends on where you place it.  Take note how the second photo is darker because as you zoom out and your aperture gets smaller you also lose light (your aperture is closing a bit more so less light is allowed in).

For the 18-55mm, the feature keeps the aperture consistent according to the zoom i.e. this lens has an aperture of f3.5-f5.6 so when you are zoomed in at 18mm the feature will select f3.5 and keep it that.  If you zoom out the aperture will change e.g. at 55mm it will be f5.6.  On the 30mm, you will only have f2 available in Macro Mode.

The point is, you cannot change the shutter speed or aperture at any point in the Macro Mode.  ISO is chosen by the camera and in the example above of the rose, the NX300 chose ISO 1600 for low light.  Hardly any noise is visible (me and noise again lol).

Macro mode might be best suited to the Samsung 60mm macro lens.  Even then, why would you need a macro feature if you are using a macro lens?

This might be a draw card for those who have moved from point and shoot cameras that have a Macro feature.  A point and shoot certainly allows you to get closer and I had a chance to play with a Pentax WG-3 camera in Macro Mode.  Now that is impressive if you don't have a macro lens.  I was able to get as close as 1cm and even though there was a bit of softening in the photo, I'd still grab it first for any small details if my 100mm and Canon are not available.

I personally don't see any benefit of this mode, but for those used to the point and shoot method, this is a quick way to get that shallow depth of field without having to fiddle with settings.  But it won't get you closer.  Macro Lenses are not at all cheap and another method is a macro filter or extension tubes.  I think before I would use the Macro Mode I would instead use an extension tube (but I don't know if one exists for the Samsung NX300).

I still would love the 60mm Macro but it's a little out of my budget at present.

As with the other Smart Modes, only JPEG is available and remember that if you change any of the options under the JPEG menu, this also changes the quality option for all the other modes.  Drive is only Single or Timer and I really do miss the continuous option here as I rely on it while working with such fine detail, especially if that detail moves like an insect.

For someone like me who prefers macro lenses, this Macro feature doesn't appeal much to me. But the blurring action does lend some nice artistic ability.  Examples below are taken straight from camera.

Possible egg nest of sorts belonging to a spider.



Action Freeze

Action Freeze would be the equivalent of the Sports Mode on various other cameras.  It speeds up the shutter to freeze whatever is happening but it also pushes up the ISO. Aperture is adjusted and not fixed as with the Macro Mode.

Here the Drive mode includes Single, Continuous High, Continuous Normal, Burst and Timer.  So unlike Macro Mode you have more leverage here and can take multiple shots at once.

The more light you have the better because even though the Samsung NX300 handles noise exceptionally well, you still want to avoid having too much noise.  You don't control the ISO, so keep an eye on what is selected when taking photos.

ISO: 800, Shutter: 1/250, f/5.  It was a slightly overcast day but the camera pushed the ISO up to 800.  While the ducks are slow moving subjects I also used the water fountain for a fast moving object.  If the shutter was slower the water would have been blurred or "smoother".

ISO: 1600, Shutter: 1/250, f5.6.  Water, again.  I cropped in a little closer to give you an idea of how well action freeze works.  You can see the detail in water as it is flowing over the rocks.

Annnnnd...one more water shot.  Sorry but I haven't had time to look for actions shots as yet and water is the next best thing.  This photo was edited but as you can see, the detail captured in the waterfall is amazing.

As Action Freeze is meant for high speed photos, the camera will decide for you.  This also means you have no control and as a well known aviation photographer mentioned to me once, when a plane is in the air, you want to see some movement in the propellers.  The feature will stop the propellers dead. 

This feature will be great for sports shows like car and bike racing.  Hoping to get to a show for a few test shots.

If you were to pair Action Freeze with a macro lens you would be able to capture some fantastic photos of insects in flight, especially if you want to freeze the wings.  The only thing you would have to be careful of is the ISO as high ISO and macro don't gel.  If the camera chose an ISO of 800 or up while you are using the macro lens, you will definitely have noise in the background.  Reduced noise because of the Samsung NX300's performance, but still noise.

All in all a fun feature that will always come in handy for quick action shots.

Rich Tones

Rich Tones, I think, is more orientated towards the HDR (High Dynamic Range) of photos.  Three photos are taken one after another, each with a different exposure.  The first one is underexposed (dark), the second one with correct exposure and the third one overexposed (bright).  These three are then merged in camera to create a photo with a higher range of luminosity than normal photos.  Creates an almost painting like effect with brighter tones.

When you switch to Rich Tones, you will be instructed to hold the camera steady while the three photos are taken so that merging is effortless.  Pay attention to the shutter speed here as a slower shutter speed e.g. 1/50 and under can cause blurring although the camera will increase the ISO to increase speed.  If you do notice that the shutter speed is slow, use a tripod.

While using the mode in different situations I haven't had to use a tripod yet.

Camera again decides on the aperture but it's not set and will change depending on what the camera "sees".  Below I've added a quick example of changing the focus area so that if the camera selects a shallow depth of field you can still change where the selected focus is.

The photos were taken using the Rich Tones feature. The first one I touched the screen to select focus on the tree, which caused the lamp to be blurred out.  The second photo was focused on the lamp, which caused the tree to be blurred out.

As you can see from the photos, the feature tends to wash out the colours somewhat and bring in some unnatural luminosity to the blue sky seen through the parts of the tree.
With a little tweaking of levels, colours and saturation, it looks a little better.


In the photo above the luminosity is enhanced but maybe just a little too much.  Some of the shadow detail is lost and saturation could be brought down a notch.  Again, this is more of a quick photo feature than something you can adjust yourself in camera.  In Lightroom 4, supplied with the Samsung NX300, you can adjust accordingly.

The advantage to having this quick feature is that you don't have to run through the motions in the software to achieve a similar effect.  Just a bit of tweaking here and there and you're done.

Drive is either Single or Timer as the camera needs a few seconds to merge the three photos to produce this effect.  So attempts to take a burst of photos is not possible and this is understandable. Flash is not available for the same reason because the camera's flash would need to activate for each photo and the flash would not be able to keep up plus it would slow the entire process down.


I didn't include the settings above because both are different.  The reason I included the photo is to show the difference in detail.  In the Rich Tones photo, detail in the sky is kept and so is the blue.  But some detail and definition is lost on the body of the propeller making it appear a bit flat.

In the Manual photo you have more definition but all detail is lost in the sky and the colour is bleached to a white.

Taking into editing, I played with both the Rich Tones and Manual photo to see which would produce quicker results that are pleasing.



Similar editing adjustments were used in both photos as well as Topaz Clarity.  The Rich Tones photo has more colour and the clouds have a large amount of detail.  I prefer the colouring in Manual but Rich Tones has more of a HDR effect.

The problem with Manual is that attempting to bring any detail back into the clouds is almost impossible.  My best bet would be to replace the sky in Manual with the sky in Rich Tones, which would have taken time.

The Rich Tones photo was much quicker to adjust with a slightly more pleasing and dramatic result.  Note, this was just a few minutes editing, results would have been better if more time was spent on the photos.

Topaz Clarity enhanced the photo and allowed me to adjust as I chose.  Topaz Clarity is one of my favourite plugins and also works with Lightroom 4.  There are trials available for you to test out at http://www.topazlabs.com/store.

Unedited, Rich Tones.  Just to show that sometimes everything works out nicely.  With a little bit of editing this would work out great.

No feature is ever perfect and each photo is a different situation.  Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won't but there is usually some editing done on every single photo taken to sort out any imperfections.  

Also, the photos of the planes taken above was on an overcast day and I think the Rich Tones feature did well here.  The photos didn't turn out too dark or over exposed so if you are new to SLR, then Rich Tones might end up being one of your favourites for dull days.

HDR can achieve some beautiful results but some pretty terrible ones too.  Rich Tones is a nice feature that can be used to create what I would call a canvas or starting point for something unique.

For some beautiful HDR work and info: http://farbspiel-photo.com/

Monday, January 27, 2014

Samsung NX300 - Smart Mode: Beauty Face, Best Face and Landscape features

Smart Mode is what I would call the User Friendly Modes and most SLRs will have a similar selection except that Samsung has placed these modes under one selection.  It makes the options easy to select and unlike other SLRs, it doesn't cramp the shooting modes dial.

The logo on the modes dial for Smart Mode is a camera with an S.  In Smart Auto Mode, the first shooting mode I reviewed (http://photographyasiam.blogspot.com/2013/07/samsung-nx300-smart-auto-mode.html), the camera automatically selects a mode based on the scene whereas in Smart Mode you decided on what shooting mode to use.

Shooting modes will have different settings e.g. the AF Area option won't be the same for all modes. I'm going to start off with Beauty Face, Best Pictures and Landscape and work with 3 or 4 modes at a time so I can give a more in depth idea of how each modes work.

One thing that is definite for each mode is that RAW is not an option and photos are saved in JPEG only (with some features being restricted to a certain size).  You do have the option of changing the JPEG quality from Normal to Fine to Superfine.

One thing to note is that when you change any of these options for JPEG, the same will apply to ALL modes including the advanced modes.  I.e. if you have set the advanced modes P,A,S, M to RAW and then change any of the JPEG options in the Smart Mode (Normal to Superfine), the modes P, A, S, M will change to JPEG.

If you don't change any of the options for JPEG in Smart Mode after selecting RAW for the P, A, S, M modes then they will stay on RAW.  Hope that wasn't too confusing.


When you select the Smart Mode the above screen will appear.  Here you choose which mode you want.  The blue border above is around the Macro Shooting Mode but you need to select ok or press the OK button in order to select the mode.  A selected mode will show with a blue border and tick top right corner.

If you want to change the scene e.g. from Beauty Face to Macro, you can touch the camera with the S (see below) on the left of the screen.  You can also click the Fn button, Select Ok (if the Smart menu selection is highlighted by a blue border at the top of the screen, if not use the navigation buttons on the right to move the blue border to the Smart menu) and you will be taken back to the menu.  Another option is to select Menu, Smart Mode and choose from there.




Beauty Face


Right: number of shots available, battery, photo size (20M), Drive, Flash, AF mode, Focus Area, Fn menu
Left: Beauty Face, Smart Menu,  Autoshare, AF options, Menu, Histogram (the graph)

Beauty Face is applied to photos where you want a softer look and imperfections removed in camera. This is usually done in photographic manipulation software but the Samsung NX300 went a step further by providing this feature in camera.  It looks like Gaussian Blur was added to this feature (I may be corrected) as this is a popular technique used in photomanipulation.

For the AF Area selection you have two options: Face Detection AF and Self Portrait AF.

In Self Portrait once you are in position the camera beeps to let you know.  The beeping is a bit low and sounds like a Turtle Dove or a galloping horse as the speed changes.  I have tried to figure out what the different sounds mean but as far as I can tell a steady "galloping horse" sound means the person's face is in focus and ready for the shot.  The manual doesn't help much and the self help on the camera says the beeping will tell you where the position of the face is, which also doesn't help much as you can't see the screen.

The camera will do the focusing for you but because the screen does not turn out to the side you can't really tell where the camera is focusing.  This does mean that the eyes can be out of focus, especially when wearing glasses.

I did try using the Wi-fi connection to a tablet and the Samsung camera app but it doesn't allow you to select any of the other features like Beauty Face.  But you can still take a selfie using the app and do some facial retouching in Lightroom 4 (the software free with Samsung NX300).

Here is a tutorial: http://www.clickinmoms.com/blog/full-portrait-retouching-in-lightroom/


The photo above is a self portrait.  The top photo was taken in Manual, using the exact same settings (with automatic focus) as the photo at the bottom (taken in Beauty Face).  No retouching was done to the top photo and the Beauty Face effect was applied in camera to the bottom photo.

As you can see, there is quite a difference and these photos were taken in low light with settings: aperture f2, shutter 1/15, ISO 1600.  Since the aperture was automatically set to f/2 (the max aperture for the 30mm), the depth of field was shallow and blurred out the background nicely but might be a little too narrow for close-up portraits.  The aperture seems to be set at the max according to the lens, no matter what the lighting available.

You do have the option of manual focus but this will only really work when you are taking a photo of someone else as you won't be able to focus on yourself.  Drive mode available is either Single or Timer and no Continuous meaning you can only take one shot at a time.  Because of the effect being applied it will take a few seconds before you can take another photo.

OIS (Anti-Shake) is not available but Flash is available even though it is set to Off.  You can still change it to Auto or Auto Red-Eye.

Overall, it's a nice feature for "quick" photos where you don't want to spend the time retouching using software.  I would have liked the option of dialing down the effect a bit but you can apply filters in camera and have a little more control there.

Best Face

Here I have to think of something because I don't like using photos of other people (stalkers and all that lol).  So this one I will leave out a photo for now.

Best Face is a feature that allows you to capture multiple photos featuring a person or people where you can select the best photo.  As I haven't tried this on a selection of people, I'm guessing that you will be able to click on each person and choose the best photo (in the case of someone blinking or not smiling in one photo) and the best photos will be saved as one.

I tried this feature on myself just to get an idea.  You take a photo as normal; half press to focus and full press to take a photo.  The camera will take 5 photos, one after another.  Apparently the first photo is of the background and the camera detects faces after the shutter button has been pushed.  If it can't identify a face, the camera will tell you and only take one photo and ask if you want to save it.

The camera will also tell you that you need to keep it steady until it has finished taking photos.  Flash and OIS are not available. What is available: Photo Size (restricted to 5.9m), Quality (but no RAW), AF Mode, (Single or Manual), AF Area, Touch AF, MF Assist (allows you to zoom in while focusing for accuracy), Focus Peaking and Drive (which is only Single photo or Timer but no Continuous).

Laughingly, I also tried taking photos of my cats (due to not wanting to use photos of people) and the camera kept on saying "No face detected".  Gives a new meaning to Smart Camera.

From a self test, after my photos were taken I was shown one photo with a box around my face where I touched the box and was given the option of the other photos taken.  I could then cycle through the photos and decide which one I liked best.  When you select an image, the thumbs up icon will appear on the selected image.

The resolution of Best Face is max 5.9M (2976 x 1984), which will give you a max print size of about 25.1cm x 16.7cm. To get a better of idea of pixels, resolution and printing: http://www.westcoastimaging.com/wci/page/info/photoshoptip/tip25.html.

When I've had a chance to experiment I will post more info.

Landscape


The Landscape feature if for scenic photos where the saturation of blues and greens is increased to create a vibrant photo.

The screen is very much the same as the screen above for Beauty Face with only one difference, the AF Area is available as Selection AF (where you can change the Auto Focus to Manual or Auto) and Multi Selection.  With Beauty Face you only have the option of Face Detection and Self-Portrait.  Flash and OIS (Anti-Shake) are not available.

ISO: 100, F/6.3, Shutter:1/1000 - Afternoon


ISO: 100, F/4.5, Shutter: f/500 - Just before Sunset


In the photos above, taken at different locations and different times during the day, the camera chose the settings.  While the Landscape feature brings out the blues and greens more, I find that it adds a little too much purple around the clouds in both photos and the horizon in the first photo.

I didn't have spectacular scenes to take photos off so most likely this would be best suited to impressive landscapes and seas.

As the feature is meant to be user friendly, the camera controls the ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.  You, the camera user has control over Photo Size, Quality (but no RAW), AF Mode, (Single or Manual), AF Area, Touch AF, MF Assist (allows you to zoom in while focusing for accuracy), Focus Peaking and Drive (which is only Single photo or Timer but no Continuous).

Basically the camera takes care of the important stuff and let's you decided on the minor changes.  The camera chose ISO 100 for both times during the day so Landscapes without a tripod i.e handheld shouldn't be a problem.

The purple may be due to pollution in the air and can be removed in Lightroom but may have to be done selectively as it's not a colour cast over the entire photo.  In the first photo, the clouds were creating an almost layered affect on the ground, which is why you see part highlighted by the sun and the rest in shadow.

I do like the brilliant blue achieved and even with the purple around the smaller clouds, the main cloud looks fluffy and white.  In the second photo, the green also came out well considering this area wasn't very green to begin with.

Landscape mode is good for skies that may otherwise have been blown out as it keeps the colour and the definition of the clouds. I will have to keep testing this mode out to see if the purple happens regularly or is a pollution element.  If you find otherwise, please share :-).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Open letter to photography thieves

I'm busy working on the Smart Auto Mode section of the Samsung NX300 and have been a little busy but will have it up soon.  I'll be working in parts, starting with Beauty Face, Best Face and Landscape.

But in the meantime, here's an article that you should read.  Photo thieves are stealing photos left right and center, using the same excuses as said in the article.  What isn't mentioned in the article is that some pathetic individuals also threaten your life, your family, your security and also use attempted extortion as scare tactics.  The world wide web knows of one particular person who does this.

The facts are clear, people stealing photos DON'T HAVE A CLUE HOW TO TAKE ONE, so they use the work of others to fraudulently further their so called business.  As I said before, always check the validity of a person's photo by using Google Image Search.

http://petapixel.com/2014/01/23/open-letter-photography-thieves/

I know the perfect place for photo thieves :-D.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Samsung NX300 and camera bags

A camera bag is always on the list of accessories.  Choosing one isn't difficult as long as you keep in mind what you intend to carry around with you i.e. batteries, memory cards, extra lenses.

For the Samsung NX300 I have 3 bags, each with their own purpose.  I specifically buy my bags from the Photo & Film Expo that runs once a year in South Africa as the show specials are pretty good and the variety of bags is so massive you will definitely find something.

So, here are the 3 bags I have especially for my Samsung NX300 as well as links to where you can buy them.

Size is part of what the Samsung NX300 is about and you obviously want to keep the carrying size to a minimum. My first, and smallest option, is the Lowepro ILC Classic 50.



The Lowepro ILC Classic 50 holds the Samsung NX300 with one pancake lens, the flash attached with compartments for memory cards and one spare battery.  I prefer to use the little pocket, marked for memory cards, for the extra battery instead and the front pocket for the memory cards. You are restricted here because a bigger lens may not fit (the 18-55mm won't) but if you want a small camera bag, even one that can fit in a woman's bag, then this is a good start.  It comes with a shoulder strap.

Where to buy?


The second option, the Vanguard BIIN 10, provides a little extra room for a larger lens and gives you the option to carry the extra lens like the 18-55mm but then space becomes a little tight.  The bag can easily carry two pancake lenses, one attached to the camera and one loose.  It's only slightly larger width wise than the Lowepro ILC Classic 50 but still remains nice and compact.


In the pic above, the camera holds the Samsung NX300 with 30mm lens attached and next to it the 18-55mm (in its own bag).  When carrying a lens the size of 18-55mm, the flash needs to be removed and stored in the top compartment with the extra battery.  If you are carrying another pancake lens then you will be able to leave the flash attached to the camera.  You can also use the top compartment for memory cards or use the front pocket of the bag.  Comes with a shoulder strap.

Where to buy?

Loot Vanguard BIIN 10 - there is a link to the Loot website on the right side of my blog where you can sign up for free.

The next bag in my list is probably the biggest you will go unless you intend taking more than 2-3 lenses with you, then I would suggest a sling bag.  The Lowepro Adventura 160 is shoulder bag that I also use for my Canon 650D.  



It's spacious but not bulky and can easily hold the Samsung NX300 with 30mm and flash attached, the 18-55mm lens, an extra pancake or normal sized lens, memory cards and extra battery.  The front compartment holds the memory cards and extra battery.  You could probably add a lens pen and cleaning cloth as well.  This is the more versatile of all three bags but definitely bigger.  Comes with shoulder strap.

Where to buy?

Kalahari.com doesn't have the 160 in stock but does sell the 170, which is only a few cm bigger.

If you really want to go wild you can look at the Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW.  I have its sister the 202 AW.  The thing about a slingshot bag is that when you need to carry a bit more than a shoulder bag can handle, you want the ability to access your camera/s quickly without having to take the bag off of your back.  You just sling the bag around, unzip the side pocket and grab your camera.

I trust Lowepro and have recommended the bags above because I use them myself.  Other bags I would also recommend are Kata and Clik Elite.  I had a wonderful Kata bag that was stolen and while Kata has fantastic bags like the Bumblebee (which I have my heart set on), they are a bit more expensive.  If you can afford a Kata bag, definitely go for it.


Take note that the bags mentioned above for the Samsung NX300 don't have rain covers, the Lowepro Slingshot does and the Kata bags do (you may want to check this with the smaller camera bags).

Lowepro material is said to be water resistant and while I wouldn't test this theory out, I did get caught in an unexpected rain fall not so long ago and the Lowepro Adventura 160 kept my camera safe.  Still, if your bag doesn't have a rain cover, keep a plastic bag in your camera bag (even if you do have a rain cover).

Vanguard also says their material is weather proof and provides a 2-year warranty.

There isn't a hard and fast rule of what camera bag is best.  Just know what you want to use the bag for, check how well it's padded and secure and what it can carry.  One camera bag is never enough as each one has its own place in different situations.  Just start off with one that suits your needs and go from there.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Samsung NX300 - Lens Priority

The first thing to note is that in Lens Priority the iFn feature only has two options: iDepth and iZoom. But, if you have selected RAW as your format then only iDepth is available.  To use iZoom you have to change your format to JPEG only (not even RAW+JPEG format will work).  iFn is only available on lenses with the iFn button (the 30mm, which is a great lens, doesn't have this function but the 16mm and 20mm do).


Unlike the other shooting modes P, A, S and M where you use the iFn function to select aperture, shutter etc, in Priority Mode while you use iDepth or iZoom the camera adjusts the shutter and aperture accordingly.

iDepth allows you to blur or sharpen the background i.e. adjusting your Depth of Field.  You can either choose to have the background as sharp as the foreground or blur out the background to "focus" the interest on the subject or object in the foreground.

iZoom is an interesting feature that allows you to digitally zoom in as well as physically use the zoom capabilities of your lens.  For example.  I can zoom in as far as the lens will allow on a subject some distance away and then digitally zoom in even further.  iZoom is supposed to be less degrading on the photos than the typical digital zoom but the resolution can change in comparison to zooming in just using the rotating ring.

iZoom and iDepth are disabled during 3D mode and 3D auto mode.  While the manual indicated that iZoom can't be used during video, it didn't say whether or not iDepth can be used in video but I can't seem to get it to work.  I also can't seem to find clear info about this on the net.  iZoom is also not available when capturing burst shots.

In P, A, S and M modes the iFn function can be customised so that you can select what you options you want when using the iFn feature.  The feature can't be used with 3D.


Using the iZoom feature.
In this photo I didn't zoom in with the lens or iZoom.  I wanted to show the difference starting off with the min focal length of the 18-55mm lens at 18mm.

Here the focal length is at its max of 55mm zoomed in just using the lens.

And here is where iZoom comes into play.  I used the max zoom allowed with iZoom at 2x.

On the pc I zoomed in 200% on the iZoom photo and found that degradation was kept quite low.  Although at two different zooms, there was less pixelation on the iZoom photo than on the 55mm lens zoom photo.

Using iDepth feature.
Here I started with the photo where the background was as sharp as the foreground and practically everything was in focus.

Here you can see the impact.  This is the max blurring applied and the background plus a few elements (like the ball in her hand) has been blurred out due to shallow depth of field.  This feature can make your subject or object stand out.

How do you use the iDepth and iZoom features?  

You need to use the mode dial on the top and select the i icon.  Compose, press the iFn button and a menu at the bottom will show.  



Here you can select iDepth or iZoom by using the left and right navigation buttons (drive and AF button). You then can either use the focus ring to change the setting or the jog dial (the same jog dial that you use to change shutter/aperture). You can refocus if need be and take the shot.

As zooming in digitally can create artifacts in the photo I'm guessing the iZoom feature was kept to JPEG photos as the photos are processed in camera where these artifacts are removed.  With RAW the camera records everything and removes nothing.

I don't know if I will completely take to the Lens Priority mode as I prefer to have control over shutter and aperture.  But, I do like the ability to zoom in further with iZoom and even though I prefer RAW over JPEG, I can make an exception here.

Next up, Smart Mode.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Samsung NX300 - Accessories and lenses where to buy

Before I get into the Lens Priority button, I just wanted to make a note about lenses and accessories for the Samsung NX300.  I eventually received my Samsung 30mm (pancake) lens. I won't be using it in Lens Priority Mode as this is the iFN feature and the 30mm doesn't have this feature.

I chose the lens for it's quality, which is said to be better than the later 20mm lens that does have the iFN function.  For this mode I will be using the 18-55mm kit lens.

There was some delay and issues in getting the 30mm lens as well as extra batteries.  In South Africa at present there are only a handful of places that sell these accessories:

SA Camera www.sacamera.co.za (where I bought my lens), Orms www.ormsdirect.co.za (where I bought my batteries), Digital Experience www.digitalexperience.co.za, Samsung Stores (but you will most probably have to order first) and very slight possibility of finding accessories in Dion Wired.

Nowhere else could I find the lens or extra batteries.  Camera users know, batteries are a MUST and I found it disappointing that the Samsung Stores (where the camera is sold) do not sell the batteries according to what I was told.

SA Camera was cheaper where the lens was concerned (and they have free shipping until the end of December 2013) but Orms the best price for the batteries incl delivery.  Digital Experience was too far out for me to travel and they only had the batteries in stock.

I will be using the 30mm with other modes and will add to the previous and future postings.  The one thing I do want to mention is that the lens does not have the AF/MF button and in order to use the Manual Focus on the lens, you need to activate it under the camera icon on the camera.  Press the Menu button, go to the camera icon and select AF Mode then select Manual Focus.

DO NOT turn the focus ring before changing the AF Mode to Manual Focus as this can cause problems with the Auto Focus.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Product lighting on a DIY budget

On my wishlist is the Elinchrom D-Lite RX4 to Go 400Ws Wireless Kit as seen here: http://www.ormsdirect.co.za/elinchrom-d-lite-rx-4-to-go-400ws-wireless-kit-20822-1.  But like many photographers it's not within my budget and I'm always looking for DIY ways to create similar lighting that you would get with the more expensive equipment.

Whenever I look at a tutorial the first noticeable thing is the lighting equipment.  Studio lights, softboxes, light stands etc and I usually think "I don't stand a chance".  Then I came across a site of a well known photographer where someone commented on his tutorial and his expensive lighting equipment.

Alex Koloskov took up the challenge and proved what many togs would agree with: it's not the equipment but the photographer that makes the shot.

In the link below, Alex provides a tutorial on using DIY lighting in a similar setup to produce a similar product image as he created here: http://www.photigy.com/learn-studio-tabletop-photography-step-by-step-a-droid-shot/

DIY Tutorial: http://www.photigy.com/professional-photography-without-professional-equipment-myth-and-reality/

It wasn't expensive equipment that produced the final image, it was Alex's way of thinking, experimentation and understanding of light.  Basically free tools to help you get a better shot.

Here you will find a setup where Alex used Plexiglass to eliminate shadows. http://www.photigy.com/simple-way-to-get-a-complete-white-background-out-from-a-camera-in-studio-product-photography/

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Samsung NX300 - Manual Mode

Manual Mode for beginners might seem a little daunting, but once you have a basic understanding of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, Manual Mode might end up being your favourite of shooting modes.

I used to love using AV (aperture value) but I didn't always get the correct exposure.  After playing around with the Manual Mode it was easier to keep control of the exposure and adjust the shutter speed and aperture the way I wanted and what worked best for me.

I still use AF to focus as my eyes are not reliable for manual focus but the Focus Ring (also used when the iFN button is pressed to select settings) makes life so much easier in MF.  It allows you to zoom in for a closer look and for fine tuning the focus before taking the photo.  Much like using the + and - zoom buttons on other DLSR's.  I can tell you that having this available on the lens and not having to reach to the back of the camera is a huge time saver.

To use the Focus Ring for zooming in while focusing manually you need to have MF Assist activated by going to Menu, selecting MF Assist under the Camera Icon then selecting either Enlarge x5 or Enlarge x8.

You may also want to activate Focus Peaking (depending on what suits you best as some might find this distracting) where the camera detects the sensitivity of the focus area which displays as either white, red, green.  The points that are in focus are highlighted in the colour you selected. You can increase the sensitivity but low is considered best for day to day photography where high is probably better for low light photos.

Keep an eye on the Aperture and Shutter Speed while manually focusing.

I haven't been able to find out if you can move around the screen when using MF Assist and while this is a great feature it will only zoom in on the center of the screen. To see the entire screen while manually focusing you need to deactivate MF Assist. You can't use MF Assist if your lens is set to Auto Focus, it can only be used in Manual Focus.

The following website and videos will give you a better idea of how Focus Peaking works (even though the Samsung NX300 isn't featured the idea is general).  http://petapixel.com/2012/08/30/focus-peaking-making-its-way-onto-more-digital-cameras/

I may add a video later on demonstrating how this works.

Right: number of shots available, battery, Dynamic Range, photo size (20M), Drive, Flash, Metering, AF mode, Focus Area, OIS, RAW format, Fn menu
Left: Manual Mode, Autoshare, AF options, Menu, Histogram (the graph)

In Manual Mode the Shutter Speed is highlighted in blue, meaning this is currently selected and when you move the dial mode (wheel on top of the camera) you will be changing the shutter speed only.  While doing this keep an eye on the Exposure Compensation/Value (those sets of lines seen at the bottom of the screen).  The red line will move as you change either the shutter or aperture.

If the line moves to the right of the 0, the photo becomes overexposed.  If it moves to the left of the 0 the photo becomes underexposed.  If in the middle under 0, the photo is considered correctly exposed.  This red line does not move in the other advanced modes unless you press the EV (Exposure Value, shown as a block with + and -) and manually change it.

Changing the EV in modes P, A, and S is telling the camera to make the photo a bit lighter or darker after the camera has chosen what it believes is the correct exposure for the combination of settings.  Since the camera controls one of the features in P, A and S modes, you can use the EV button here but in Manual Mode you are controlling both aperture and shutter so the EV button doesn't work in the same way and exposure is adjusted according to what you decide on the settings.

Sometimes the camera isn't correct with its choice of exposure according to your settings in P, A and S so the EV button allows you to adjust for correct exposure.

For more info on EV: http://digital-photography-school.com/ev-compensation-explained

To change the aperture you need to press the EV button (the aperture will change to blue) and hold down while turning the mode dial and select the aperture that you want.  Again keep an eye on the red line as it moves.

If you still struggle with getting correct exposure try adjusting your ISO, starting from 200 (if it was originally on 100) and slowly increasing until you get the desired settings.  Keep in mind that the more you increase the ISO the more noise will appear but as I said before, the Samsung NX300 is excellent with handling noise.

Framing Mode is mentioned with Manual Mode in the user's manual but can be used with the other advanced modes.  At first I found it confusing because when the feature is turned ON it seems to be the opposite of my Canon 650D's Exposure Compensation.  But considering that the Samsung NX300 does not have an EVF, the Framing Mode seems to compensate for this.  Read more about this here: http://photographyasiam.blogspot.com/2013/08/samsung-nx300-few-quick-things.html - scroll down to Framing Mode.

The following photos show the original shot and the edited shot to the right.


ISO: 100, Aperture: f/10, Shutter: 1/13 - edited with PSE 10 and Topaz Clarity


ISO: 1600, Aperture: f/9, Shutter: 1/400.  I was indoors with low light so increased my ISO.  
I could have decreased my aperture to increase the shutter speed but the DOF would have been limited.  Here I released the ball and quickly snapped away and a fast shutter speed was needed.

ISO: 100, Aperture: f/3.5, Shutter: 1/30.  No Flash, no photoshop correction.  This is straight out of the camera.  Posted this for fun :-D.

There is quite a bit of noise in the second photo above but not enough to entirely degrade the photo.  I could still use Topaz Labs Denoise and it would look pretty good.  Shows how well the Samsung NX300 handles noise when the ISO is that high.

I did find that after extended use, about 2 hours or so straight, the camera did become hot on the battery's side but this seems normal for many SLR's.  As my Canon 650D is much bigger I don't notice when the battery becomes hot.  The memory card is right next to the battery on the Samsung NX300 so this can pose a slight problem as the heat may damage the card or cause it to not work correctly.  If you feel the camera is getting too hot, switch it off for a few minutes and let it cool down.


In the last photo of the Merry Go Round, the bottom photo shows the Chromatic Aberration (fringing) that appears when using the 18-55mm kit lens for the Samsung NX300.  In comparison to my Canon 18-55mm kit lens, the Samsung kit lens handles the fringing far better as it is less pronounced.  You can reduce and mostly remove the fringing with one mouse click in Lightroom 4 under Lens Correction.

I played around with the colour presets in LR4 but the Samsung NX300 captured the colours of the Merry Go Round fairly nicely considering this was in the shade where colours tend to be muted.

Since playing with the Samsung NX300 I've started to enjoy the benefits of Manual Mode over Aperture Priority.  The Samsung NX300 more than shows its ease of use, no matter what shooting mode you use.

Next: Lens Priority Mode