Monday, February 24, 2014

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


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.

I have included a short tutorial using Lens Priority with the standard 18-55mm kit lens that I think works better for macro than this feature.  See at the end of the article here: Lens Priority

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. 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

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:

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