Talking about Hardware, Firmware, and Software, oh my!? – Photography Word of the Week 4

This week we will be talking about a different aspect of photography: the equipment we love and loathe. A lot of cameras, recording devices, and even lenses have version numbers, and sometimes it can get confusing getting all those hardware, firmware, and software updates in order. In this blog post, we’ll try to make sense of it all, and see why it matters to you, the person behind the camera!

Hardware, Firmware, and Software, oh my!?

First up, lets make the distinction between Hardware, Firmware, and Software.

Hardware normally refers to the physical device, including sensors, processors, batteries, etc. It could be a camera, computer, laptop, tablet, phone, flash, lens, or even a remote. They can be extremely complex, or the simplest of devices. In order to get the new version of a hardware, you typically have to purchase it. For example, the Canon 5D mark III camera is the version 3 of the Canon 5D series. You cannot just download something to turn your 5D mark II into a 5D mark III, since the cameras are physically different, including new chips, processors, sensors, etc.

Software and Applications (Apps) are the other pieces of the puzzle we are usually very familiar with. They are the programs which run on your hardware, such as the web browser you’re using to read this blog. When it comes to photography, software is usually what runs on your computer, not your camera, such as Adobe Photoshop, Canon Photo Professional, etc. However, there are some third party groups such as Magic Lantern and Nikonhacker who build specialized software which you can install on your camera in order to teach it new tricks.

Firmware is often misunderstood, but plays a very vital role. Firmware is a special category of software which normally comes already installed on a chip within your camera or other device. Firmware is what makes your device able to do something, anything. Without firmware, your camera wouldn’t know what to do when you press the shutter or any other button, turn knobs, etc. Depending on the make and model of your camera or other equipment, some manufacturers are very generous in offering frequent free firmware upgrades full of new features, while others only provide minor bug fixes. In either case, it’s usually best to upgrade the firmware to ensure you get access to all the features which are available for your camera. One example would be a camera which can only record video in 720p resolution might get a firmware upgrade to allow it to record in 1080p. All you need to do is download the firmware, install it in your camera, and you can take advantage of the new features or bug fixes.

Version Numbers
Version numbers are usually a combination of 1 to 4 numbers, such as version 1, version 1.2, version 1.2.3 or version 1.2.3.138.

  1. Major Revision – The first number represents a major revision, which usually includes multiple new features, or a fundamental change in the way the software or firmware works
  2. Minor Revision – The second number represents a minor revision, which would typically add one new feature and maybe fix a few bugs
  3. Bug Fix – The third number represents a bug fix, usually something which can’t wait until the next Minor Revision.
  4. Build Number – Finally, the fourth number is a build number, which is mostly an internal reference used to identify which version of the code was used to build the software or firmware. Some companies do builds every night (nightly builds) with extra builds during the day as needed to test out something, so the build numbers can climb up very quickly.

Conclusion
So now you understand that a Canon 5D Mark III with firmware 1.2.3 is the third version of the Canon 5D camera running firmware version 1.2.3 which added new features and fixed some bugs compared to when the Canon 5D Mark III first came out.

Talking about Blur, Shake, Bokeh, Movement, and Panning – Photography Word of the Week 3

This week’s mission: Making blur-related concepts clear.

Blur refers to the elements in the photo which do not have enough clarity to see details. It could be only one or multiple subjects in the photo, or it could be the entire photo. Blur can sometimes be intentional improving the photo, or can be unwanted and make an image unusable.

Blur in a photo can have multiple causes.
1) Blur can be caused by blurring out the foreground and background in a photo to make the main subject stand out more. In the example below, the bird is in focus, but the background is out-of-focus. This type of blur is usually controlled by using a different sensor size, focal length, or aperture. The quality of such blur is called bokeh, which we go in further details down below. When talking of the quantity of such out-of-focus blur, we usually talk about depth of field, which represents how much of the image is in focus.

Red Winged Blackbird

Red Winged Blackbird

2) A blur which is normally not wanted is caused by camera shake, where the whole image becomes blurry, and is usually unusable, except for some art forms where blur is intentional. Camera shake can be prevented by using a faster shutter speed, or using a camera or lens with some form of Image Stabilization, which can have different names depending on the manufacturer (Vibration Reduction, Vibration Compensation, etc). One rule of thumb to prevent camera shake blur is to use a shutter speed at least as fast as your focal length. So if you’re using a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/300s or faster. If you use Image Stabilization with 4 stops compensation on that same 300mm, you could use that same 300mm lens at around 1/(300/(2^4))s = 1/(300/16) = 1/18.75s instead of 1/300s.

Red Winged Blackbird camera shake

Red Winged Blackbird camera shake

3) A blur which can sometimes be used artistically is called movement blur, where an object going fast in front of the camera becomes blurry, with the foreground and background still sharp. You can do this artistically by using a slower shutter speed, or you can prevent it by using a faster shutter speed. Which shutter speeds to use mostly depends on how fast the object is moving, focal length, and how far it is from the camera.

Red Winged Blackbird movement blur

Red Winged Blackbird movement blur in back leg

4) Panning blur is where you have a fast moving object as in 3), but you pan the camera to follow the movement, so the object stays sharp, and the foreground and background instead become blurry.

5) While technically not blur, some noise can be caused by using a high ISO film or setting which makes the image unsharp, or by modifying the exposure value in post production by a large amount. We usually refer to it as a noisy image.

Red Winged Blackbird ISO noise

Red Winged Blackbird ISO noise

Bokeh is probably one of the most used catch phrases of Photography, but unfortunately it is rarely used correctly both gramatically and phonetically. The Japanese would pronounce the ‘eh’ like the ‘a’ in “a rock (as opposed to the ‘a’ in Ale). However it is oftenly incorrectly pronounced as rhyming with “O-Kay”.

Lets start by what isn’t bokeh to understand some key terms. If you look at a photo or video (which is basically a series of photos anyways), you may notice some blur coming from out-of-focus elements. A common mistake is calling that bokeh, for instance: “The 400mm f/2.8 lens produces a lot of bokeh.” A correct way of saying it would be “The 400mm f/2.8 lens causes a lot of foreground and background blur.” or “The 400mm f/2.8 lens causes a lot of the elements to be out of focus.”

As we saw, bokeh has nothing to do with the quantity of the blur. So what is bokeh? It has everything to do with the QUALITY of the blur. Lets say you have two lenses, a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 and a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 You both extend them at 200mm, and you both select an aperture of 2.8. The images will look very similar, but one major difference could be the quality of the blur. While it wouldn’t change how much of the image is blurry, you might notice that one blur is more pleasant to the eyes than the other. THAT is what we call bokeh! So the correct use of bokeh would have “This lens offers very pleasant bokeh”. Bokeh is also very debatable, some people might prefer the bokeh of the Canon 70-200, while some prefer the bokeh of the Nikon 70-200.

Talking about light, Luminous Flux, Luminous Intensity, Illuminance, Luminance, Brightness, Exposure, Exposure Value, and Light Stops – Photography Word of the Week 2

This week, we discus various words used to describe and measure light in photography and videography.

Graphic of luminance, illuminance, luminous intensity, and luminous flux

luminance illuminance luminous intensity luminous flux

Luminous Flux is how much light a light source emits, measured in lumens (lm). This could be the sun, a light bulb, a flash, etc.

Luminous Intensity is how much light travels in a certain direction, measured in candelas (cd). For example, the sun sends out light all over the galaxy, but chances are we are only interested in the light hitting around us.

Illuminance is how much of that light is hitting an object, measured in lux.

Luminance is how much light is reflected or emitted by an object or scene, measured in candela per square meter (cd/m²). Luminance can either be measured for the object or scene being photographed, or for the final print photo.

Brightness, on the other hand, is a judgement call made by a subject looking at an object or scene, which can be biased. This is usually made by comparing two objects to determine which is brighter and which is darker.

To better understand the difference, lets look at a cell phone or tablet screen. Ever noticed how bright your cell phone looks inside, but when you take it outside in the sun, you can barely see the screen? A very popular model of cell phones was measured at 536 cd/m². Inside the house, the screen looks very bright. But if you bring it outside on a sunny day at noon time, the sun’s 1.6×10^9 cd/m² luminance will make that same cell phone screen look dark.

Exposure is a measure of how much of that light reaches the camera per area, which is affected by the aperture, the shutter speed, and the luminance of the scene or object. A scene or object can be considered underexposed, if it is too dark, correctly exposed, or over-exposed, if it is too bright.

Exposure Value represents the aperture and shutter speed settings of a camera, and is measured in EV. An EV of 0 represents an aperture of 1 and a shutter speed of 1 second, where 1 EV represents a 1 stop of light difference.

Interestingly, Exposure Value does not mention the ISO light sensitivity of the film or sensor, so it is very typical to describe an Exposure value as 15 EV at ISO 100, which would give a correct exposure for a sunny scene based on the Sunny f/16 rule where in a sunny scene, a correct exposure can be obtained with an aperture of f/16 with the ISO and Shutter speed being equal (f/16, 1/100 secs, ISO 100 would work, as well as f/16, 1/2000 sec, ISO 2000).

Light Stops are used to compare Exposure and Exposure Value, where each stop of light represents double the intensity of light. Stops can be used to describe the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings used to take a photo, and are usually used in full stops, half stops, or third stops.

Come back next week for our next Photography Word of the Week!

Camera Calculators Android app version 1.1.0


I am very excited to announce that the Camera Calculators app 1.1.0 for Android is now released on the Google Play ™ store and the Amazon Appstore for Android!

This version includes the following new features:

•  Print Size calculator – Helps you determine how large you can print an image.
•  Minimum Pixels calculator – Helps you determine how many pixels you need for a chosen print size.

For more information and for links to download it, see the Camera Calculators App page on this site:

Camera Calculators App

Android app on Google Play Amazon App Store Badge

Photography – Photography Word of the Week 1

Welcome to this new series which I will simply call Photography Word of the Week. Each week I will take a common photography term and explain it’s meaning and why they are important. The goal of this? To enrich our vocabulary, and perhaps learn a thing or two about photography. I believe that the word worthy of the first Word of the Week should be Photography.

From the Ancient Greek words φωτός (phōtos – genitive of the word “light”) and γραφή (graphé – drawing, painting, writing, in this case drawing is the one which interests us), photography is the art of drawing light. While we may think it is a modern art, philosophers Mozi and Aristotle, as well as mathematician Euclid all described pinhole cameras back in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, but it was only over 1500 years later that the first camera obscuras and pinhole cameras were constructed, and by the 15th century they were used by artists such as Leonardo DaVinci to project an image on a canvas, where the artist would manually draw the image. Over the years, that manual process was replaced by film, and most recently by digital sensors.

The technology might evolve at an exponential rate, but the idea remains the same: light goes through a hole (or lens) and gets focused on something (canvas, film, digital sensor), which allows to immortalize the events, both joyful and sad, for millenniums to come.

Join us next week for the next Photography Word of the Week!

Camera Calculators Android app now available!


I am very excited to announce that the Camera Calculators app 1.0.0 for Android is now released on the Google Play ™ store!

For more information and for links to download it, see the Camera Calculators App page on this site:

Camera Calculators App


Android app on Google Play

Camera Calculators app main menu

Using your camera’s Scene Modes – Photo Tutorial 101 Take Control of your Camera – Episode 11

In this video, I show how to use the Scene Modes on your camera for the times when the automatic mode doesn’t give you the results you are looking for.

Canon Extender 2x III teleconverter review

In this review, I do a review of the Canon Extender 2x III teleconverter. I rented this from Lensrentalscanada.com along with a Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens and the 1.4x III teleconverter hoping to get some amazing bird photos. After over 1000 shots with the lens alone, the 1.4x and the 2x teleconverters, my sad conclusion is that the lens alone probably gave me the best results.

Sure the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters do zoom in the image by 1.4x and 2x respectively, but they also deteriorate the image quality by a good amount, so taking a photo without the teleconverter and cropping it down usually gave very similar results without many of the inconveniences that comes from using a teleconverter (lost of 1-2 stops of light which sometimes disables autofocus on some lens/camera combinations).

All photos in this video are as-is .jpgs coming right out of the camera with no post-processing. Definitely some post-processing would improve some of these, but I want to show the files as they come, not after spending hours refining a RAW file. I first show the full image, then I zoom in 1:1.

Canon Extender 1.4x III teleconverter review

In this review, I do a review of the Canon Extender 1.4x III teleconverter. I rented this from Lensrentalscanada.com along with a Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens and the 2x III teleconverter hoping to get some amazing bird photos. After over 1000 shots with the lens alone, the 1.4x and the 2x teleconverters, my sad conclusion is that the lens alone probably gave me the best results.

Sure the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters do zoom in the image by 1.4x and 2x respectively, but they also deteriorate the image quality by a good amount, so taking a photo without the teleconverter and cropping it down usually gave very similar results without many of the inconveniences that comes from using a teleconverter (lost of 1-2 stops of light which sometimes disables autofocus on some lens/camera combinations).

All photos in this video are as-is .jpgs coming right out of the camera with no post-processing. Definitely some post-processing would improve some of these, but I want to show the files as they come, not after spending hours refining a RAW file. I first show the full image, then I zoom in 1:1.

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens review a great super telephoto lens for bird photography

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In this video, I do a review of the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens. This is a great super telephoto lens for bird photography. The image quality on this lens is superb, and the build quality is even more impressive. Made from solid metal, I’d feel safe carrying this in the woods in case I need to knock out a bear or two.

The major downsides are the aperture and lack of image stabilization (IS), which may or may not be deal breakers depending what you take photos of. Using a 400mm lens, the depth of field is really small, so I realistically probably wouldn’t use a lens at f/2.8 or even f/4 too often, unless the subject was far enough away. With aperture of f/5.6 at a distance of 6 feet on a full frame camera such as the Canon 6D, you get a depth of field of 0.2 inches. In metric, at 2 meters, you get a depth of field of 0.65 cm. An aperture of f/2.8 would half those depths of field, which would make it unusable for most situations.

As for lack of IS, if you’re doing bird photography at 1/2000 or faster shutter speeds, the images should be sharp with or without IS. If you plan on using this lens indoors in bad lighting conditions, though, prepare to use ISOs in the 12’800 to 102’400 and wishing your camera could go in the millions of ISO.

The lack of IS is much more an issue for video work, where I’ve had some success handholding it and applying the warp stabilizer in Adobe Premiere Pro. It doesn’t turn it into tripod-steady footage, but closer to steadycam footage, which is usually quite acceptable.

Using a teleconverter, though, the image quality dropped quite a bit, and the aperture of f/8 (1.4x) and f/11 (2x) disabled the autofocus on my Canon 6D camera, which made this lens quite harder to use. But used without any converters, the autofocus was fast and accurate.

Overall I quite enjoyed renting this lens, and I’m looking forward to comparing it to other similar lenses such as the Canon 100-400mm L and the Tamron 150-600mm lens. My guess is the zoom versions would be more versatile in parts because of the zoom, but also because of the image stabilization, but for image quality, I believe the 400mm f/5.6L would come out on top by a large margin.

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