Saturday, March 12, 2016

Samsung NX300: Smart Mode Night, Fireworks and Light Trace

This post has taken me a long time to complete.  First reason being that these features are not used on a regular basis and second because I came across something unusual about the Fireworks and Light Trace features and tried to find an answer for it.

Read on if you noticed your camera going out of focus in Light Trace and Fireworks.  Otherwise, scroll down to the heading Night Mode.

So, about the second reason.  I took photos of a colour lit fountain and to be honest, the results were really beautiful to me.  I started to get excited about Light Trace and Fireworks (ignore the name, I'm not a fireworks person because of my animals but this feature can be used creatively).  The photos were sharp and lit just right (no flash was used because of long exposure) and I was happy with the results.

When I arrived home I sat down to write the post and had the camera in front of me as I prefer to go through everything again while writing.  Now when I was taking the photos of the fountain I didn't look at the screen when I used AF (Auto Focus).  The camera was placed on a steady stone ledge, two second timer set, half pressed the shutter button for focus and then pressed all the way to take the photo.

When I half pressed the shutter button at home (I didn't take a photo) I noticed that the camera went out of focus.  What?  I touched the screen to place the focus, it didn't change, just remained slightly out of focus.  It happened in both Fireworks and Light Trace but when I tried Night and other features focus was obtained.

I focused in Night and switched over to Light Trace, half pressed to focus, even touched the screen as I did this a few times, and the camera immediately went out of focus.

Worried that there was a problem with the camera I searched the Internet to death.  All I found was that a majority of reviewers/bloggers just glossed over the feature and barely, if even, used it.  I was told that they prefer manual so they don't use this type of feature.  Oookay.

I contacted Samsung in my country and overseas, was promptly told this was not normal and to take it in for repairs.  I tried updating the software on camera and lenses but nothing changed.  I contacted the repair center suggested by Samsung and sent them a video plus a photo sample and asked them if they had actually played with the feature.  The repair center was a fair distance from me and I didn't want to make a wasted trip.

The repair center told me their Samsung technician said I most likely didn't have the camera stable and that's why the photos were blurry.  Er...the photos were not blurry and the out of focus issue occures before photos are taken plus the camera was stable.  They said they were get back to me...they didn't.  Samsung also left the conversation.  Both parties above wouldn't answer me when I asked them if their technicians had actually played with the feature.

So I went out to two different Samsung stores to test out their NX300, which they didn't have on display.  Instead I tried out the NX3000 and NX Mini, both of which did the exact same thing in Light Trace and Fireworks mode: when you tried to focus the AF went out of focus.

One thing to note here, Manual focus also worked so I could focus there.  But I was beginning to wonder if this out of focus could be related to the lens and feature.

For example, with my 18-55mm lens I had more in focus at 18mm than with my 30mm at the same distance.  Light Trace is expected to be used for moving light like car lights but at a distance.  Fireworks is also expected to be used at a distance.

And yet no one could give me an answer.  I'm going to post the video and would be curious to know if anyone is experiencing the same thing, an experiment if you will.

It's nothing major, but little things like this irritate me when I can't get an answer and wonder if it's product failure or product feature.

Note, the video had to be taken in a dark room (for Light Trace/Fireworks) because of the long exposure.  In daylight everything would be white because of the amount of light that is being allowed in.  The camera was also placed on a table.  No photos are taken, they would be blurry if the 2 second timer isn't used due to me moving the camera but the point here is to show how the AF goes out of focus BEFORE the photo is taken.

Light Trace

Night Mode

Night Mode is a fairly good feature for night time shots where you don't want to have to fiddle with the settings.  It brings in enough light to add ambiance to the photo but I did notice the increased amount of noise.  You do need to have a stable surface or tripod even though the shutter speed can be fast enough for handheld.  You can actually use this during the day

Reason: the camera takes about 4-5 photos in a quick burst and a faster shutter speed means a quicker burst whereas a slower shutter speed means a slower burst.  The camera then puts these photos together, like Exposure Bracketing, to get a properly exposed shot.

While you may be able to get away with handheld when the shutter speed is higher, there is still a chance of the photo blurring in the finer details.

To activate Night mode, change the Mode dial to the black camera icon with the S inside and then scroll along the features bar at the bottom until you get to Night. If you are already in Smart mode but have selected another feature, tap the black camera icon with S on the screen left side or press the Fn button and select the feature.

The camera chooses ISO, shutter speed and aperture unlike Fireworks where settings don't change.

Where the ISO is concerned, the more light in the scene the lower the ISO.
The photos tend to have a slight softness, more so than Fireworks and Light Trace but unless you zoom in it's not too noticeable.

Settings:
Autoshare: Off
Smart Mode: Set to Night
Photo size: highest set at 20M 5472x3648 (3:2)
Quality: No RAW here so set to Super Fine
AF Mode: Single Auto Focus but Manual focus is also available
Touch AF: Touch AF
MF Assist: Enlarge x5
Focus Peaking:  I leave this on, Normal and White colour
Depending on your lens OIS may be activated
Drive: Set to Single but I navigate on screen to use the timer
Flash is not available even though it shows up in Night and Light Trace mode

Photos are as is, no editing except for cropping.  The first photo was taken just before sunset when there was still enough light but the camera was placed on a stable surface.

Notice how the feature turned the lighting in the fountains into a fire like effect.  The water is not as smooth as with Fireworks or Light Trace. 
Aperture f3.5, shutter 1/40, ISO 1600, focal length 18mm.


A night setting which was captured exactly as I saw it with different areas lit nicely.  The squiggly lines are reflections from another shop, not blurred movement.  Noise is very high, the details are a bit soft in comparison to the other photos below.  This can be fixed in Lightroom to a degree.
Aperture f5, shutter 1/8, ISO 3200, focal length 42mm.

Fireworks

As I said above I don't like fireworks because of the emotional distress it causes my animals but the feature doesn't necessarily have to be used for it.  Both Fireworks and Light Trace are for moving light so technically any moving light will work.  With stationary light you won't see much of the feature in work there.

To activate Fireworks mode, change the Mode dial to the black camera icon with the S inside and then scroll along the features bar at the bottom until you get to Fireworks. If you are already in Smart mode but have selected another feature, tap the black camera icon with S on the screen left side or press the Fn button and select the feature.

As with both Fireworks and Light Trace you need a stable surface or tripod as both use long exposure and the features work best at night or just before sunset and there on.  If you try taking a photo during the day the photo may show up completely white or mostly blown because of the amount of light being allowed into the camera.

The photo I took was about 30 min after sunset.  You don't need to do anything other than...uh focus (if you read above you would understand).  You don't need to set anything as you would with P, A, S, M but you can still change the following settings (below is what I used in my settings).

Autoshare: Off
Smart Mode: Set to Fireworks
Photo size: highest set at 20M 5472x3648 (3:2)
Quality: No RAW here so set to Super Fine
AF Mode: Single Auto Focus (here you can change to Manual Focus)
Touch AF: Touch AF
MF Assist: Enlarge x5
Focus Peaking:  I leave this on, Normal and White colour
Depending on your lens OIS may be activated
Drive: Set to Single but I navigate on screen to use the timer

When I took the pic I was unaware of the focus situation so I didn't take a manual shot as an example and haven't had a chance to get back to the fountain but hope to soon.

The camera takes one photo, long exposure unlike Night mode that takes several photos.

The photo below is the result, SOOC (straight out of camera meaning no editing was done i.e. levels, colour etc) with some cropping, ok a fair amount of cropping.  Straight out of camera and wow.

Aperture f8, shutter 3", ISO 100, focal length 55mm

Other than the noise and some blurred people movement (remember long exposure means anything moving will be blurred) the lighting of the fountain is beautiful, ethereal and clear.  Anything not moving is in perfect focus at a distance and behind the fountain whereas the tree top left is closer and slightly unfocused.  Even the person sitting to the right is in focus.

As I said above regarding focus, the feature appears dependent on distance and the lens.  I used the 18-55mm in all of these photos.

What looks like just lighting in the fountain is a mix of light and water, the water giving that smooth, soft look.  The noise isn't too bad, in fact I don't mind leaving it as is although I'm not too fond of letting JPEG take over.

The camera seems set on leaving ISO at 100, which is no problem for me as this keeps the noise down (the lower the better as long exposure introduces noise), shutter at 3 seconds and aperture at f8.  f8 should have quite a bit in focus from front to back yet that darn focus issue.

To get this feature to work with something other than fireworks I would suggest a bit of distance between you and the subject/object because of what I mentioned earlier on.  Assuming it's a part of the feature that is.

The Fireworks feature does have some creative potential so don't ignore it.

Light Trace

Not much difference other than the longer exposure time and that the camera adjusts the aperture according to the amount of light.  The end result is similar and below are two photos, one from just before sunset and one after.

To activate Light Trace mode, change the Mode dial to the black camera icon with the S inside and then scroll along the features bar at the bottom until you get to Light Trace.  If you are already in Smart mode but have selected another feature, tap the black camera icon with S on the screen left side or press the Fn button and select the feature.

But first, the settings:

Autoshare: Off
Smart Mode: Set to Light Trace
Photo size: highest set at 20M 5472x3648 (3:2)
Quality: No RAW here so set to Super Fine
AF Mode: Single Auto Focus (here you can change to Manual Focus)
Touch AF: Touch AF
MF Assist: Enlarge x5
Focus Peaking:  I leave this on, Normal and White colour
Depending on your lens OIS may be activated
Drive: Set to Single but I navigate on screen to use the timer
Flash is not available even though it shows up in Night and Light Trace mode

Aperture f22, shutter 10", ISO 100, focal length 18mm.

This one I really love in how it turned out.  While the movement of people is blurred, the tree, the lit fountain etc are all in focus and has a magical feel.
Aperture f11, shutter 10", ISO 100, focal length 42mm.

I don't normally go for the quick fix settings but these three I find very interesting and useful.  Would love some feedback from NX300 owners, even other NX camera owners regarding the camera going out of focus in Light Trace and Fireworks so if you have time please leave a comment if you notice anything.

Here is a video example of using the Samsung NX300 with Light Trace.

For South African readers who own a Samsung NX camera, if you are looking for the elusive 2D/3D lens have a look at the Samsung store in The Glen as they have stock (at the time of this posting).

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