Tech Talk

Arguments against the Megapixel Race

Canon Rebel XSi - 450DCanon Rebel XSi - 450DEvery year the photo industry whose aim is to make money just as the rest of us, is trying to seduce us into buying new gear and discarding the same equipment that was so hot just a year or two ago. Pumping out Megapixel monsters with features that rival those of pro cameras, they tell us that we have to have these wonderful new items. I admit, I am a sucker myself. Every time I open up a magazine and see the latest Megapixel monster staring back at me from glossy pages my heart beats faster. Of course, I read the testimonials from the "pros" (probably endorsed by the industry) who rave about the new technology. Looking at their fantastic images, we might think that we can only succeed with these tools. I am even thinking about upgrading my truly wonderful Canon. I am waiting for the 50D to hit the shelves and I might just buy the Rebel XSi in the meantime to have something new to play with, because I need toys to be happy.
On a more rational note, it is unnecessary to buy new equipment. Already the sensors of the last generation of digital cameras are pushing the limits of diffraction. The Rebel XSi will have a greater pixel density than any other camera with APS-C sensor size. This means that the maximum tolerable circle of confusion for this camera becomes smaller.

This means that we become more and more restricted to the minimum size of our aperture (largest f-stop). In order to boost Depth of Field, a small aperture is necessary.

What is the significance of this?

For once, the higher resolution is not going to make things worse. At the best case, we will get a picture that is 2 times better when the resolution of the sensor is 2 times higher, but in most practical situations, the lens or the optical resolution will limit us somewhat. I think at some point we will get to a point of diminishing returns in terms of resolution, but the camera industry will still taunt us with megapixel numbers for quite some time.

Another way to grow resolution is by growing sensor size (full frame). However, those are extremely expensive to manufacture are much more demanding on the lenses, since they require a larger image circle with the same perfection.

In the future, the industry should probably focus on more pressing issues like increasing the dynamic range of their sensors. If resolution is really all that counts, we can always resort to stitching.

P.S.: Don't worry if this discussion was a bit too technical to understand. I will soon elaborate these things in greater depth.

Entry Level Cameras rivaling pro models - a preview

Just a few years ago, I was following the online debate between advocates of the Digital SLR revolution and followers of film. At this time, I had already made up my mind with the purchase of my first Digital SLR, the newly released Canon 300D. A true marvel and ahead of its time, it was said to rival the quality of 35mm film cameras. Back then, the Canon 1Ds used to be the nonplus ultra of Digital Imaging technology. At 11 Megapixels and equipped with the world’s first full frame CMOS sensor it was the dream of many wannabe photographers (including yours truly) and a must for pros. Many agencies just started to accept digital pictures and required “at least” 11 Megapixels. At the time of its introduction, the 1Ds did cost around $8,000.

Canon Rebel XSi - 450DCanon Rebel XSi - 450D Soon, Canons new entry level SLR, the Rebel XSi will debut at around $800. It will offer 12 Megapixels. Granted the Camera does not offer the weather seals and Full Frame Sensor of the “old” 1Ds, but crop sensors have many advantages. The new features like liveview really make the XSi stand out. With the smaller image circle of a crop sensor, lens design becomes easier making lenses cheaper and lighter. Regardless of feature counting, pixel peeping and rich playboy coolness factor, the XSi is the best camera available to amateur photographers with features exceeding those of previous professional models. Its lightweight design, quiet and inconspicuous shutter operation, and general tourist appeal is a real advantage during street photography sessions. The loud clonk of my 20D’s shutter resulted in stinkeye on more than just one occasion.

Santa Vision - Going Wide for Christmas

Boats and Coronado Island BridgeBoats photographed with the Tokina wide-angle lens

For quite some time I have been thinking about getting a wide-angle lens. I decided to start my Christmas season early by buying aTokina 12mm - 24mm f/4 PRO DX Autofocus Zoom Lens. The lens is suitable for Cameras with crop factor like the Canon Rebel and xxD series (e.g. 40D) and almost all Nikon Digital SLR.

Using a wide-angle glass on my camera brings many new possibilities to be creative. I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving, so I can put my new lens through its paces. I have already shot some pictures with it and feel comfortable enough to recommend the lens to my readers.  The picture of the beach and the boat picture demonstrate the impressive field of view that this lens offers.  Even more amazing than that is the low distortion. At 12mm, I had expected a lot of it, when there is hardly any. I did not correct the pictures with PTLens, so what you see here is pretty much what came out of my camera. I only ran a couple of scripts for color saturation and did not do anything else on these images.

The sharpness of this lens is just as impressive. It is comparable with other Canon Lenses I own and easily satisfies the needs of today’s Digital SLR lineup. The images are crisp and the color rendition is superb. I wish I had gotten this lens a bit earlier instead of missing the creative choices it offers me.

I did discover some vignetting on one of my shots but I believe it is due to the Tiffen Circular Polarizer Filter that I bought with the lens. I shot the photograph with an aperture of 7.1. I have shot other pictures with similar settings using the polarizing filter without seeing any vignetting. The effect was light enough so that I could fix it in post processing.

Dads Bolivia Photos

Woman in BoliviaWe have now scanned and uploaded the first reel of my Dad's Bolivia Photos to the store. I am still working on streamlining the process. Now that we almost finished moving in to our new place and with the holiday season coming, I should find the time.

One day I went through my Dad's attic and ran across his collection of several thousand slides from years of business travel. I still remember vividly how he used to give presentations in my school, captivating my classmates with his stories. Back in his days, business travel used to be a real adventure. Our country was poor and travel restricted. Sometimes reaching a destination for him consisted of a week of hair-raising journeys, making for first-rate stories. Now his slides were collecting dust and fading away in the depth of time, eaten by acids and humidity.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can now preserve his photos. Last year I purchased a Nikon Coolscan Slide Scanner , hoping he would be able to digitize his work. It turns out that the computer needed an upgrade as well. When I visited my parents this year, we worked on the scanning process a bit, but I will still have to put together a computer system.

Being separated by almost 10,000 miles does not make things easier for us, but we finally managed to scan some test cases. Eventually my Dad will have the tedious task of scanning a load of slides, while I just need to run some Photoshop actions on them, or so I thought. It turns out, that most pictures will need some individual attention as well, to fix some blemishes caused by the ravages of time.

I am looking forward to digitizing his photos and going on a journey through time, comparing the old and the new. I will visit some of the places and compare photographs. This should be a fun project.

You can find some of his Bolivia Slides in my Store. (Smugmug offers me unlimited storage)

Understanding Camera Lingo – Camera Glossary

Canon S3 ISCanon S3 IS

Translate camera lingo into meaningful information by using this glossary.

While I was writing my last tutorial, I suddenly realized that I am using idioms throughout my texts, the meaning of which may be elusive. Therefore, I decided to start this glossary to help you understand.


I focused this “dictionary” on terms relevant to digital cameras.

AD Converter: The Analog to Digital Converter transforms the Sensor information (charge) into digital levels suitable for the digital processor.

AE Lock: The Automatic Exposure Lock holds the exposure settings (aperture, shutter) over a series of images. Panoramic stitches require locking exposure.

AF Servo (AI Servo): This keeps the focus on a moving subject. AF Servo is useful for sports and wildlife photography.

Aliasing: Refers to the stair stepping (jaggies) of diagonal edges in images when the resolution is too low.

Anti Aliasing: Technique to reduce Aliasing by softening of aliased edges through blending and averaging of pixel values. The resulting image will look smoother and more natural.

Pocket PCs for Photographers and Web Designers

IPAQ Picture ViewerIPAQ Picture ViewerToday I am going to show you some mobile computing solutions for the Digital Photographer using a Windows Mobile powered Pocket PC.
You can use the Pocket PC as an ultra mobile RAW file viewer and editor, to calculate the Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance, to evaluate Exposure, take notes, attach voice notes to digital files or read a book while you are waiting for an event.
The possibilities are endless. You can do almost as much with this ultra portable solution then with a "normal" PC.

Unfortunately many vendors like Dell have withdrawn from this market, but you can still buy everything you need (often at bargain prices).

Point and Shoot Cameras are for story telling

Santa Monica PierSanta Monica Pier, Photographed with a Sony DSC-P200 Point and Shoot Digital Camera In the comments to a recent article on Photographic Mistakes and in many emails I received, people have always asked me about Cameras, specifically point and shoot (P&S) cameras.
Although I am a big fan of Canon's Digital SLR Cameras, I bought a Sony DSC-P200 last year for "experimentation" (camera toss anyone?) and so that I could have a small carry-around camera.
I often find myself on a trail somewhere, with the gear tucked away in my photo backpack, headed for a place I wish to photograph. When I get home, I often got the pictures I wanted, but I didn't have any pictures of the trail or sights I encountered on the way that I didn't pull the camera out of the bag for.
Having a small Point and Shoot Camera with me in my pocket doesn't add much weight, but would have allowed me to capture all those things and tell a complete story.
I travel quite a bit and sometimes I write about it on this Travel Portal. Having all these pictures taken, would give me the opportunity to tell a much better story about the hardships of the trail, the steepness of a climb or whatever a traveler might find interesting.
A point and shoot camera is a small camera that doesn't require a lot of adjustments. You point and shoot and you can trust that the automatic will work reasonably well. Although most of these cameras also have options for manual settings, they are usually cumbersome (menus) to set.
The simplicity of these cameras makes them a favorite for people to "snap" pictures quickly without bothering about camera settings. Birthday parties, group shots, vacation stills to collect some memories without having to carry around a big and heavy camera is what Point and Shoots are designed for.

Can you take quality photos with a Point and Shoot Camera?

This is probably one of the most asked questions.
Let me be perfectly straight. I have probably taken no more then a couple hundred photos with that camera while I didn't have the SLR, so the examples shown might not be the most artistic, but it is always the Photographer who makes the pictures in the first place, while the camera is just the tool he/she uses to get the job done.
A SLR has certain advantages (shorter shutter lag, less noise, more manual control, mirror lockup, interchangeable lenses) but many situations don't require those and you can study composition with just about any camera.

Don't buy on Ebay

Exploding Ipaq bloated battery

Well, I guess thats a bit too strong of a statement. I have bought many things on Ebay and I am very happy with most of my purchases (e.g. the backup server does great and was a steal). However I will not ever buy a replacement battery on Ebay again.

Background Story:

A while ago I bought to replacement batteries for my and Dani's IPAQ PDA. Those batteries are very high capacity Li-Polymer Batteries that look something like that when bought new: