Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lens Aberrations

In our last post, we looked at how aberrations are the root cause of the use of multiple lenses in constructing a complete camera lens. Today, and over the course of future posts, let us consider in more detail the concept of aberration. 

Most generally, aberration refers to the distortion of an image when passed through an optical system, such as digital camera lenses. Limitations of the system might lead to blurring. A common misconception about aberrations, however, is that they are caused by imperfections in the device or system. Rather, the real root cause of aberrations is in fact in the relatively simplistic and, therefore somewhat inaccurate, boundaries set by paraxial theory--that theory around which optical systems are built. To put it more succinctly, even lenses built perfectly to the specifications of paraxial theory will experience aberrations because the theory does not perfectly describe the behavior of light in such systems.

Aberrations can be broken down into two major categories. Those derived from geometrical structure and those derived from the effects on wavelength due to dispersion. Though shape and material are important to both categories, the shape will obviously play a larger role in the former, causing blurring, and material/density will play a larger role in the latter, causing shifts in coloration in addition to blurring. Geometrically derived aberrations are called monochromatic because they affect even monochromatic light, whereas dispersion-based aberrations are called chromatic because they are only evident in situations with multiple color variants.

Digital camera lenses correct for these aberrations and multiple subcategories therein. Soon, we will take a look at some of the ideas underlying the most common chromatic and monochromatic aberrations. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Lens Is More Than a Lens

The basic principle behind a lens is simple: the device mimics the eye, capturing and ushering light toward a processing center, one that is either immediate (digital) or delayed (chemical and film). Yet, the actual physical properties of light and the shape of a lens make the situation slightly more complicated.

First off, a camera lens worth its salt is rarely in fact just one lens. We call it “a lens” out of habit, but in most cases it is in fact a conglomeration of many lenses, referred to most commonly as lens elements. “Lens elements” as a phrase is itself misleading. In fact, the double meaning of the term "lens," referring to a camera part, and "optical lens," referring to any lens used for a variety of purposes, lends itself to a kind of linguistic and lexical problem: when referring to the parts that make up the whole, both have the same name. Suffice it to say that most camera lenses are not lenses at all in the most traditional sense, but rather are themselves a series of optical lenses collected together to make a more complex and precise device.

Why are there multiple lenses in digital camera lenses? The simple answer is that a single lens has what is termed “aberrations.” These are areas of the lens where light becomes distorted, either losing focus or distorting coloration, and in fact a host of other issues. The multiple lenses serve to correct these aberrations.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Can You Create Instagram Effects Without an App?

Kate Bevan’s abrasive July article on Instagram’s role in “debasing photography” got the Internet riled. Her thesis that Instagram photos limit, rather than expand, photographic options was hotly debated over the following months.  Some echoed her opinion, while others dismissed it as a luddite’s desperation. 

Rather than weigh in, let us consider the film techniques hidden behind Instagram filters. Even though the settings can be produced with just one button push, they are, in fact, modeled after real photographs. This nostalgic underpinning serves both as the platform’s greatest asset, and also the key to creating similar images with actual film. 

For brevity’s sake, let us discuss the three most popular Instagram filter settings and how to reproduce them. 

According to Jessica Zollman, Instagram’s “Community Evangelist,” the most popular filter is Earlybird, a setting intended to look aged and softened. According to Helena Price, a professional photographer, the closest replica of this look is produced using a Polaroid SX-70 with expired Polaroid 600 film. 

The second most popular Instagram filter is X-Pro II, defined by radiant color and high contrast. To reproduce this effect, a 35mm Lomo-LCA with cross-processed Velvia-50 film should do the trick.

The third most popular filter on Instagram? No filter! As a test, see if you can figure out how to reproduce the effect on your own.

As for doing this instead with your digital cameras, and for the rest of the Instagram filters, you can always use Photoshop. Daniel Box has even managed to create Photoshop actions for each one.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Look at the Benro S-Series

The tripod is an accessory no photographer or filmographer should do without. If you are having difficulty choosing which is best, consider the Benro S-Series, a new collection here at Super Digital City. Already a trusted name among professionals, Benro has been creating advanced tripods and heads since 2002. Within the collection we have the Video Tripod Kits, Video Monopod Kits, and Video Heads. What sets this collection apart from other tripods and monopods is the focus on video shooting as opposed to photography--thanks to fully adjustable heads, sturdy pan and tilt lock levers, and integral leveling platforms for smooth shooting.

The S-Series Tripod and Monopod Kits mark the "eighth-generation design of single leg tubes and flip lever lock mechanisms." The kits are available in aluminum alloy and carbon fiber, both providing rigidity and excellent torque resistance. The kits come in multiple sizes, and adjustable leg angles offer extra flexibility--even in tight spaces. Quick-lock leg levers allow for fast height adjustment, no fumbling required. How securely will it hold your camera? With several lock levers for adjustments, there is no need to worry about the safety of the camera.

As for the S-Series Video Heads, expect a compact and light-weight performance. They are built on a magnesium alloy flat base which is compatible with almost any tripod, monopod, ball adapter, or slider. But of course they are the perfect addition to a Benro product. A pan drag-lock lever allows the user to adjust tension and lock the head on a 360 degree pan movement, while a tilt lever allows for a full front to rear axis.

The Benro S-Series provides videographers with equipment ideal for any shoot. With quality products that offer smooth filming and easy adjustments, the hardest part will be deciding which model to choose.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Protecting Your Photographs

We spend a lot of time talking about photography lighting equipment, shooting techniques, and buying advice. But now that you have taken hundreds of photographs, how can you protect them against copyright infringement? In an online, digital world, stealing photographs has become even easier. What steps can you take to protect your work?
  • First, copyright your photos. In the U.S., no action is even required. It happens automatically when the photo is created. But, if you want extra protection, photographers can file photos with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • Photographers who have their own website can make photocopying more difficult with either hidden layers or tiling. Both require changes to your website's HTML code. To create hidden layers, place the image behind a transparent foreground image. The online image will appear normal, but when a user tries to save it, the file will be the blank foreground image instead. To tile, break the image into smaller image tiles. It will look like a continuous picture, but when a user tries to save, they will save one tile image at a time.
  • Create a watermark to increase copyright protection and to receive credit even when someone uses your photograph. The only downside is that it can distract from the image, and if it is too subtle, it can be easily covered up.
  • A watermark alternative is to create a frame around the photo with your name and other details.
  • Store copyright information in the image file's metadata. This can be done through most picture editing software programs.
The best action is to quickly identify infringement and take action. You can search for your image on the web using Google's image search, TinEye, or Digimarc.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Which Camera Is Right for Me? Continued

Last week we began getting into the specifics of DSLR cameras, dependent upon photography needs. Today we will continue with more expectations for professionals. In general, pro photographers spend around $2,500 or more. Both the Canon EOS 7D and EOS 5D Mark III are great examples of more affordable cameras that still provide features to meet your expectations. Many photographers end up spending more on lenses than the body. Balance your budget between both and remember you do not need to spend $8,000 on a camera.
  • Documentary/travel/wildlife: All three have their pictures printed in high quality, either in magazines, books, or printed for large displays in exhibits, etc. Resolution should be 12 megapixels or more, preferably with a full-frame sensor. The frame rate should be at least 5fps and a 20-shot burst depth. Video is not as important but a 30fps for video can come in handy—if you think you will use it. Wildlife photographers will want a lightweight body as they trek across terrain.
  • Studio/landscape/fine art: Portraits, fashion, products, ads, abstract—you need a camera that can handle it all. 12 megapixels is the minimum but 14 or more is preferred. The frame rate need only be 3fps or more with a burst depth of 6 or more. Again, video not entirely important. Instead look for great raw-conversion software, flash-control features, and a range of color modes.
  • Wedding/events: A camera with at least 12 megapixels and a full-frame sensor is good place to start. 3fps or more for the frame rate is ideal with a 6-shot burst depth. If you plan on taking video, 30fps with manual controls for shutter and aperture is ideal, but not the only option. Also look for excellent flash control features, white-balance controls, and a solid battery.
Do not feel confined by these recommendations. Even without an expensive camera full of feature after feature, photographers can still take amazing shots. Equipment is important, but skill reigns supreme.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Which Camera Is Right for Me?

A few weeks ago we delved into the different types of DSLR cameras available on the market. You feel a bit more confident, but you are still not sure which features to look for or how much to spend on a camera. It all depends on your purpose. Are you an amateur or a student? Are you interested in sports or news photography? Let's go over the features each type of photographer needs.
  • Hobbyists: Not ready to make an expensive plunge? Do not spend more than $600 for the body and starter lens. Resolution can be anywhere from 6-15 megapixels with a frame rate of 2fps to 5fps and a burst depth of 5 to 6 shots. Also look for a compact body and a lightweight zoom lens.
  • Students: Students who are seriously considering photography as a career should spend less than $1,000 on a body and starter lens. 12-18 megapixels offers great resolution. The frame rate should be 5fps to 8fps or faster with a burst depth of 10 shots or more. AF speed and tracking should be the best you can afford and video should be 24 or 30fps. The DSLR should have a comprehensive viewfinder, good raw-conversion software, and comprehensive flash-control features.
  • News/sports/action: Whether your pictures are printed in magazines, newspaper, or on the Internet, a DSLR for you is a serious investment. Expect to pay $1,000 and up for the body. Resolution needs to be 10 megapixels or more while the body all metal and weather-resistant. The frame rate should be 8fps to 10fps and a burst depth of 40 shots or more. Video should also be 30fps or faster. Purchase an extensive telephoto lens and look for simultaneous raw-plus-JPEG capture, flexible white-balance, and good battery life.
Check back next week when we dive into other types of photography and the best features to have.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Look at the Sigma DP2 Merrill Digital Camera

Photographers in the market for a high-end point-and-shoot with all the latest advancements, need look no farther than the Sigma DP2 Merrill digital camera. Foveon devotees will flock to this camera which boasts 46 megapixels thanks to a Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor. For those who are unaware, the Foveon X3 Sensor features three layers of pixels, each made up of slightly more than 15 megapixels and each layer sensitive to a different color --hence why Sigma can say it is a 46-megapixel camera. The result is vibrant and detailed photographs.

Readers might recognize the technology from the SD1, a DSLR. However, this digital camera features a high-performance fixed lens, a 32mm F2.8 lens to be more precise. Unlike a DSLR, this camera is lightweight and compact, making it easy to tote around on your photography adventures. It also has the ability to shoot in both RAW and JPEG, simultaneously too, giving photographers greater flexibility. Manual focus is available for use and there is even a focus ring just like on an SLR –a feature you do not often find on a compact camera. Also like a DSLR, the DP2 has a 3.0'' TFT LCD to quickly change menu options.

The DP2 Merrill is ideal not just for serious hobbyists and amateurs, but professionals who may not be able to tote a large camera and equipment.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Heart of a Digital SLR: The Sensor

The sensor is an important part of your camera. And while it should never be the “be all and end all” when making a camera purchase, you should put thought and consideration into the type and size.

The CCD (charged-coupled device) is the most common type of sensor in a digital SLR. Every manufacturer offers at least one model with a CCD. They offer the highest image quality, hands down, but they are of course, the most expensive and use a lot of power.

CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) strip away extra circuits on the chip to increase a pixel's light-collecting area while reducing costs and using less power than a CCD. The only con is they are bigger and therefore, the cameras are bigger.

What about sensor size? There are three standard sizes. The first is called Four Thirds, found on Olympus and Panasonic cameras. It's a standard size that was created by Olympus and Kodak, measuring 17.3mm by 13mm. Most other DSLRs use an APS sized sensor, the second standard size. It is a fairly loose term for a sensor the size of an APS-C or APS-H film format. Finally, we have the 35mm-film format, also called a full-frame because it is the size of a standard frame on a roll of 35mm film. These sensors are big and expensive to build. You'll find them on the Canon EOS 5D and the Nikon D3.

We can thank large sensors for giving us better photos with less noise, a greater dynamic range, and better performance at high ISO settings.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Battle of the Cameras: DSLR vs. Interchangeable-Lens Camera

Last week we saw a digital SLR do battle with a high-end point-and-shoot—today the DSLR faces its hybrid challenger, the interchangeable-lens camera. The main difference between these two cameras is that the latter does not have a mirror to bounce the image to the viewfinder.

The major difference between these two cameras lends itself to the main advantage of a DSLR over an ILC. The viewfinder on a DSLR is superior and ensures there is no update lag. The mirror allows the photographer to see what is currently happening in the viewfinder, while an ILC can only show you what has already happened. The advantage to the EVF, however, is that it accurately displays exposure and white balance. Some optical viewfinders on DSLRs can do this, but it comes at a greater cost.

While there are certainly plenty of digital camera lenses to choose from for ILCs, the selection is still larger for digital SLRs. DSLRs also have the ability to use older film-camera lenses without an adapter. But with better technology and bulky lenses, DSLRs tend to be bigger and heavier than ILCs (though there are compact DSLRs, as well as large ILCs on the market).

The bottom line is that the ILC is a good stepping stone for consumers who want a step above their point-and-shoot but without the bulk and the high cost.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Battle of the Cameras: DSLR vs. High-End Point-and-Shoot

As an effort to keep consumers purchasing the standard point-and-shoot, we have seen a great insurgence of more high-end digital cameras. These are a great option for photographers looking to increase the quality of their photos without breaking their budget. But can they really compete with the quality of a DSLR? Let's find out in this head-to-head battle.

An SLR offers superb lens versatility. Most manufacturers offer at least 40 digital camera lenses, allowing you to accurately target and compose your shot. The disadvantage? The pentraprism we talked about last week isn't light as a feather. SLRs are much bulkier, and so are many of their accessories. However, most entry-level models are lighter than their more expensive counterparts.

One cannot doubt the increased image quality of an SLR. 10 megapixels on an SLR is better than 10 megapixels on a digicam. It's even more apparent at higher light sensitivities. With better quality, though, comes more complexity. For some, it's a welcomed lesson, while for others it's a confusing chore.

The performance of an SLR cannot be beat. They have a faster autofocus, shorter shutter delay, continuous shooting, and more memory. And all that comes at a higher price. But cheaper SLRs are now about the same price as high-end point-and-shoots.

The digital SLR doesn't just come with great lens choices, they also have a host of accessories to improve quality, including external flashes, wireless transmitters, remote triggering, and more. With an SLR, more is, well, more! If more sounds good to you, then opt for the SLR.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Leap to Digital SLR Cameras

Over the next few weeks I'd like to devote some time to amateur photographers. As of late, there has been an increased interest in the purchase of SLR cameras. A decade or so ago they were used solely by professionals, students, and serious hobbyists. But today, we all know someone with little-to-no photography knowledge desiring the quality of a digital SLR. We may as well give them some advice before they purchase and we sincerely hope that the occasional photographer turns into a more serious hobbyist!

So what the heck is an SLR? It stands for digital single lens reflex because these cameras use a mirror behind the lens to direct light towards the viewfinder. As the shutter is released, the mirror moves out of the way, allowing light to travel to the sensor and briefly blacking out the viewfinder. A prism inside the viewfinder flips the image right side up and bounces it onto the screen.

All SLR cameras are not created equal, however. There are several types and you should know the difference before investing. The one most people are referring to when speaking of one is a full system digital SLR with an interchangeable lens. Users can remove the lens and replace it with another. Almost all SLRs today are this type.

A fixed-lens digital SLR is one in which the lens cannot be removed. Most use a semitransparent, non-moving mirror to bounce some of the light to the viewfinder, while the rest of the light goes through the main sensor. This translates to using the LCD to compose the shot.

An SLR-like, or SLR-style, is actually a standard digicam that uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) instead of the standard pentaprism. They're technically not an SLR because they don't use a mirror and the image quality does not compare.

And lastly, we have the interchangeable lens camera, also known as a hybrid camera. They use the technology of a point-and-shoot with the ability to change digital camera lenses. However, they too use an EVF and lack a mirror in the viewfinder.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cool Down and Warm Up

Our final focus on filters for digital camera lenses consist of both cooling and warming filters. Both are used to change the white balance. For those who do not know, white balance is a process to remove unrealistic color casts. Ever notice a blue tinge on compact camera photographs? That's because the white balance is off. Besides correcting color cast, the filters can also be used to add unrealistic color –which is more the case nowadays.

Thanks to automatic white balance adjustment and photo editing programs, the filters aren't often used to correct a photo. Certain situations, though, may call for their use such as unusual lighting or underwater photography. White balance cannot restore color when there is a large amount of monochromatic light and if it does, you can expect a big amount of image noise.

A colored filter will either lighten or darker opposite colors. For example, a red filter will darken green and blue. You can even use colored filters when taking black and white photography. Many colors look very similar when converted into grayscale. This will leave you with flat photographs that lack any contrast. A color filter will let in its own color of light and block out the rest. The result will be colors matching the filter will appear brighter while the other colors will appear darker. Obviously in black and white photography that means lighter or darker shades of gray –making images more dramatic.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Reduce Haze with a UV Filter

Unlike other camera filters that somehow alter the image, UV filters are primarily used to protect the camera lens. They are clear and do not affect the image. With film cameras, however, they can actually reduce haze and improve contrast because they limit the amount of UV light that reaches the film. UV light may not be visible to the human eye but on a hazy day, it will reduce film contrast. For digital photographers, this isn't much of an issue because a digital camera sensor is not as sensitive to UV light as film.

If you opt to use the filter on a digital camera, for protection purposes, be aware that they have the potential to decrease image quality because they increase lens flare. The filter will either reduce contrast or add a slight color tint. To combat this potential problem, choose a multi-coated UV filter and keep the filter very clean. And of course, pick high quality brands.

There is often debate whether photographers need the filter for protection, considering the potential degradation of image quality. Often those with rather expensive SLR lenses use one because it's cheaper to replace a filter than a lens. Personal preference ends up being the determining factor for people with less expensive lenses.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Graduated Neutral Density Filters: A Landscape Photographer's Secret

Last week we gave an overview of neutral density filters, but today's focus will be graduated neutraldensity filters –which are actually different from their relatives. As the title of the post suggests, they are an essential addition for landscape photographers. Our eyes naturally adjust to varying brightness levels, but a camera captures the scene with the same exposure, causing bright and dark regions to be null of detail and/or washed out. With a GND filter the camera can capture the photo how we see it.

The effect is achieved by pushing more light toward one side of the filter. It is ideal when brightness uniformly changes in one direction, such as a horizon. The wider the angle of view, the more enhanced the picture. They are called graduated because they have a graduated blend. The blend goes from clear to neutral gray, and the density of gray increases, blocking more light.

GND filters are categorized by their strength and rate of transition. The strength refers to the difference between how much light is reduced at one side compared to the other. Transition refers to the rate at which the darkest side of the filter transitions into the clear side.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reducing Light with a Neutral Density Filter

Neutral density filters are one of the most popular filters for digital camera lenses. They are able to reduce the amount of light entering the camera, which allows for a longer exposure time. The longer exposure time will emphasize motion, making the scene seem almost surreal. The surreal effect is often witnessed on photographs of moving water, like rivers and waterfalls. The filter can create tempestuous water and blurred motion –whether the subject is people, moving cars, or blowing grass.

Other effects are a shallower depth of field and a sharper image, both ideal qualities. While the filter is not as commonly used for these applications, they are still beneficial. The filter works well in very bright light to enable a shallow depth of field, resulting in background blur and isolation of the subject.

How does the filter work? It is actually just a piece of semi-transparent glass that inhibits a controlled fraction of incoming light uniformly, meaning it does not alter the image contrast or sharpness. Because it's equal across the visible spectrum, it also does not introduce color cast, which gives the filter its name neutral. The filters are categorized by the strength of their light-reducing ability. Stronger filters are darker shades of gray.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Popular Polarizing Filter

Last week we briefly discussed the types of filters used for digital camera lenses. The most commonly used filter is the polarizing filter and it's extremely important for landscape photographers. In simplest terms, they reduce the amount of reflected light passing through the sensor, while also increasing color saturation. Ever wonder why your pictures of blue skies aren't nearly as rich and beautiful? It's because you're not taking advantage of this nifty piece of equipment.

The intensity of the effect can be changed by rotating the filter –no more than 180 degrees is needed. The effect can also be changed depending on the direction the camera is pointed. It will be strongest when the camera is pointed in the direction perpendicular to the direction of the sun's incoming light. A polarizer used in conjunction with wide-angle lenses can create an unrealistic sky that visibly darkens, so use caution.

There are both linear and circularpolarizing filters. What's the difference? A circular can be used when the camera's metering and autofocus are being used. A linear cannot and because most photographers will want to use metering and autofocus, it's recommended to use a circular polarizing filter.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

An Overview of Lens Filters

A few weeks ago we spent a lot of time delving into the world of digital camera lenses. Lens filters are just one of several accessories for lenses that can improve upon your photographs. Lens filters attach directly to the lens, coming in two varieties: screw-on and front filters. Some front filters can fit on just about any lens diameter, making them a bit more flexible, but this is not always the case. Filter holder kits can make attaching the filter easier. Like the name implies, screw-on filters directly attach and provide an air-tight seal. The only disadvantage is that each filter will only work with a specific lens size.

The most commonly used filters are polarizing, UV/haze, neutral density, graduated neutral density, and warming/cooling filters (also known as color filters). While you can be creative and use them as you wish, they all have primary uses.
  • Linear and circular polarizers are used to reduce glare and improve saturation. They are very important for landscape photography, giving a richer color to sky and land.
  • Neutral density filters are used to extend exposure time by reducing the amount of light reaching the camera's sensor. They are typically used to smooth water movement, achieve shallow depth of field in bright light, and making moving objects less apparent.
  • Graduated neutral density filters are a bit different. They limit the amount of light across an image in a smooth geometric pattern. They are often used in landscape where there is a linear blend from dark to light.
  • UV filters are used to protect the camera lens, rather than create an effect. But they do reduce haze and improve contrast by minimizing UV light.
  • Cool and warm filters change the white balance. They can be used to correct unrealistic color cast or add one. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Composition Techniques for Better Photographs

Photo by  Reportergimmi

Last week we started with the basics of composing a photograph. But there is more to it then just framing your subject. You're not trying to just take a picture. You're attempting to tell a story. Here are some great tips to get you started on the right path.

Think about colors and tones. If you remember from a few months back, photography lighting equipment is crucial and can really impact a photograph. Light produces both color contrast and tonal contrast. Color is the hue you see, like blue, red, green, etc. Tone refers to brightness –how light or dark the color is. We often associate colors and tones with specific moods and emotions. Red typically evokes passion, while an orange sunrise shows intensity and heat. Darker tones obviously bring about “darker” emotions and light tones are more uplifting.

Color and tone go hand in hand with lines. By lines I mean any boundary created by two contrasting colors. Our brain automatically follows lines without us really knowing. Use lines to guide the audience's eyes. But be sure not to mistakenly place lines that could distract the focus of the image.  

Check back next week when discuss filters for digital camera lenses

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tips for Composing a Shot

Even with all the best equipment and digital camera lenses in the world, anyone can still take a terrible photograph. While there are no “rules” per say for taking a photograph, there are basic guidelines that can help beginners improve their technique. It's all about composing the photo, so let's go over some basics:
  • Hopefully you already know about the rule of thirds. For whatever reason we've all grown up with the idea to center the subject, which usually makes for the most boring photographs. Instead, put the focus somewhere else in the frame and don't discount other elements in the shot. By viewing the picture as a 3x3 grid, you can avoid placing the focal image in the center.
  • Think about viewpoint and angles. Before you set the shot, think about your audience and how they will view the photo. Taking the picture at eye-level as opposed to the bottom right will give a completely different perspective. What do you want to show?
  • Backgrounds are equally as important as the focal point on the picture. A terrible background can distract the viewer and ruin the shot. If you can move around it or move your subject, go for it. Of course you can edit later on the computer, but aim for a perfect shot each time.
  • Finally, think about depth. Depth will make your photo look more realistic. Try to take a picture where there are objects and/or elements at different distances.    

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Caring for Digital Camera Lenses

With all this talk about digital camera lenses, we cannot forget that such expensive equipment deserves expert care. Lenses that are well cared for will not only continue to take higher quality shots, they can last for years. Start by using a microfiber lens cloth to remove dirt and dust from the lens itself. Use gentle strokes working towards the outside of the lens. Stuck on dirt will require cleaning solutions, but only use those dedicated for lens cleaning. Household cleaners can easily damage it. While cleaning is important, there is such a thing as over-cleaning. Too much cleaning can scratch the glass and remove essential surface coatings.
Scratches are the worst thing that can happen to your lens. You can't really repair them yourself --just take precautions to prevent them such as using a filter. While many filters can add cool effects to your photographs, they can double as a protective layer along with your lens cap. Water is another mortal enemy of the lens. Water can not only damage the electronic circuits in the lens, it can get inside the internal lens and dry, leaving water spots you cannot get rid of. When shooting out in the rain or snow, use a rain hood to protect your camera.
To protect the lenses when not in use, it's imperative to utilize lens bags and cases or camera bags with plenty of cushioning. Sturdy, well-made bags will prevent shocks and damage. Consider using a few silica gel packets in the bag to protect your equipment from collecting moisture.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Teleconverter Lenses

We've gone over zoom and telephoto lenses in the past and today I'd like to focus on a lens of a similar fashion, the teleconverter lens --sometimes also known as an extender or multiplier. They can multiply the focal length of a lens by 1.4 to 2 times. But like any piece of equipment, there are pros and cons to choosing a teleconverter over a zoom or telephoto lens.

The obvious, and most important, pro is increased focal length. A 1.4x converter will give you an extra 40%, while a 2x converter gives you 100% more focal length. When you're not so close to your subject, it will come out much clearer with the converter. Teleconverters are also much lighter. A telephoto lens is awesome, but have you held one in your hand? They add quite a bit of weight to your lens bag. Lastly, they can actually come in handy if you don't have a macro lens and want –and can— get in closer to your subject.

One major disadvantage is light. When you use a teleconverter lens, less light gets in and your max aperture will be decreased. The more you multiply the focal length, the more the aperture decreases. So it might be better to choose a 1.4x than a 2x converter. Just like with any lens that increases focal length, you have to worry about camera shake. You can solve the problem by increasing shutter speed and using a tripod. Converters also slow down camera focus speed, especially in lower lighting. Switch to manual mode to help. And finally, the image quality will be reduced so opt for higher quality converters to keep image quality up.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Standards of Standard Lenses

Over the past few weeks we've spent a great deal of time talking about the different digital camera lenses. But what about the standard lens? What could you possibly do with something that seems so...standard? A lot actually! A standard lens falls in between a wide-angle and a telephoto. It will make pictures look just as they do with your own eyes, no exaggerations and distance between objects look normal.

So what can you do with a standard lens, or rather why would you want to use it? For starters, your photographs look natural. It's as simple as that. Using other lenses can draw your attention to particular parts of the photo while forgetting the rest. With a standard, your eyes are drawn to exactly what's in the frame. Standard lenses are also wonderful at letting in more light, especially if you go for more expensive ones. They have larger apertures which can nicely blur backgrounds, work in low light without flash, and improve image quality because you use a lower ISO. But you don't even need to spend a great deal of money to still enjoy these features, meaning you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Standard lenses are very versatile and they're perfect when you have room to play around with your shot. You can use them for full-length portraits, street photography, landscapes, group photos, and more. And let's not forget they are much lighter than their counterparts, making them ideal for travel.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hone in with a Telephoto Lens

There are going to be plenty of photographic opportunities when moving closer to your subject just isn't possible, and in those times of magnification need you can opt for a telephoto lens. A telephoto lens is available as both a zoom and prime (fixed) lens; it provides higher magnification and is used to photograph something far away because you either cannot get closer to it or you want to flatten the perspective. A zoom lens with a focal range above 100mm is classified as telephoto.

Years ago telephoto lenses that produced very high quality images were not only difficult to create, but very expensive. It's only been in the last decade or so that manufacturers could bump up the quality without drastically increasing the price. Telephoto lenses are popular among nature photographers –it's not easy sitting right next to a lion after all. Although it is traditionally used for wildlife and wide-angle for landscapes, don't be afraid to swap.Additionally they are excellent for sports photography, another scenario where it is difficult to be close to your subjects. It's also great for capturing candid shots, which tend to make the best pictures. The lens allows you to isolate your subject, to truly make it the center of attention.

The main obstacle to overcome when using a telephoto lens is camera shake. While some lenses have a vibration reduction mechanism, it won't completely solve the problem. Not only do you need to shoot at a faster shutter speed to minimize blurring, you should use a tripod whenever possible.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fisheye Lenses: Not to Be Confused with Wide-Angle

Fisheye lenses may seem like a cool way to experiment with your photography, but a fisheye lens doesn't have to be “all fun and games.” They are a wonderful opportunity to showcase your artistic side and they're more versatile than you think. The first order of business is to not confuse them with a wide-angle lens, although they do in fact capture a wide angle. The center of the image will appear somewhat normal while the outer portion is visibly distorted. A wide-angle lens has corrective elements to “fix” the distortion, unlike the fisheye lens.

There are two types of fisheye lenses: diagonal and circular. Diagonal is the preferred choice and will map a 180 degree angle view diagonally across the frame's sensor and fill the frame. A circular lens has a shorter focal length and creates a circular image centered in the frame. While these lenses might be awesome at funky pictures, you can utilize them in many situations. Because they're wide-angle, try them for landscape and nature photography. They also work well on architecture, especially on ceilings. Try moving in close to the subject for more detail, and if you use a shorter focal length, there will be less distortion.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Getting Up Close and Personal with Macro Lenses

Do you enjoy those photographs of little ladybugs and individual rain drops? If the tiny world we often do not see fascinates you, macro photography may be your heart's desire. While point-and-shoot cameras allow for macro mode, nothing competes with owning a macro lens for your digital SLR. You might assume that a macro lens falls under the zoom lenses category, but actually no. A true macro lens is actually a prime lens with a fixed focal length. However, there are macro zoom lenses available, used a lot for outdoor photography, but they offer lower quality images and will not have as high a magnification ratio.

Macro lenses are usually found in focal lengths of 50mm, 100mm, and 180mm. Higher focal lengths are more expensive, larger, and heavier. With a short focal length you will need to get much closer to the subject as opposed to a 180mm lens. Long focal lengths will further put the background out of focus, isolating the subject –which is really what you want.

When you're ready to shoot, set the camera to macro mode. In most cases you'll want to set a large aperture to create a smaller depth of field so the camera is more focused on the subject. Keep your subject fully in focus and make use of an external flash to draw more attention to the subject. Also the flash will allow you to keep your ISO low so you do not lose image quality.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prime vs. Zoom Lenses

Before we delve into the specifics of particular digital camera lenses, the first lesson to master is the difference between prime and zoom lenses. Prime lenses are those have a single focal length, as opposed to zoom lenses which can have a range of focal lengths. As a refresher, focal length is the distance in mm from the center of the lens to the focal point. For the most part, prime lenses offer better quality because it is difficult to retain a sharp picture when moving through a full zoom range. But keep in mind that zoom lenses will be necessary for certain shots and better brands equal better images when zooming.

Prime lenses are sought after by professionals because they give the best possible results. Image quality is the main advantage and it is determined by four factors: sharpness, distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration. Prime lenses rank the best in all four criteria. However, the obvious disadvantage is a fixed focal length. There is no zoom so you must physically move farther or closer away from your subject, which you know isn't always possible in photography. 

Honestly, each one is great to own and will be needed in certain scenarios. When quality matter most, stick with prime, but when the elements do not allow you to be so close, opt for the zoom instead.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

See Through the Eyes of Lenses

After successful lessons on photography lighting equipment, we'd like to shift into a new direction. If there is any piece of equipment as crucial as lighting, it's lenses. Without quality digital camera lenses, there is no photograph to showcase. The lens is the eye of the camera, capturing every minute detail, every ounce of color. Photographers can spend thousands of dollars on lenses because they know quality means everything. But besides quality, photographers need to purchase the right lens for the job, along with the knowledge of how to setup the focal length correctly.

Camera lenses are not just required of professionals. Anyone with a serious hobby will find that different lenses can take one's photographs to new heights. The lens you use for portraits isn't going to be the same you use for landscape or sports. Not all lenses were created equal.

Over the next few weeks we'll discuss the different types of lenses, such as macro, wide-angle, telephoto, etc., as well as tips, when to use them, and how to care for them. Super Digital City offers some of the best lenses to fit all major brand DSLR cameras and the proper accessories. Check back next week when we delve into prime versus zoom lenses.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Wonderful World of HMI Lighting

By now you should have a pretty good grip on the different forms of photography lighting equipment. We've discussed several types of lamps for studios and today we'll wrap up with HMI lights. HMI stands for Hydrargyrum Medium-Arc Iodide. The H is better known as Mercury and the I is a halogen used in the lamp. HMI lighting is more predominately seen in the motion film industry as opposed to photography. One reason being that they are rather large and expensive, but they serve their purpose well.

HMI lighting offers consistent color temperature, are flicker-free, cooler than other lighting, and produce a high quantity of light. The color temperature will remain consistent up to about 500 hours of use before you begin to notice more green in the light. HMI lights are not actually considered a “cool” light, but they typically run cooler than tungsten lighting.

When used in studio photography, most choose it for portraits and stills. They offer many of the same advantages as tungsten lighting, but because they run a bit cooler, they are easier to use with softboxes, scrims, and other light modifiers. Despite the higher price tag, HMI lights remain a popular choice among film makers and photographers.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Expanding Usage with an External Flash, Part 2

Last week we began a discussion about ways to best utilize your external flash. Let's continue talking about making the most out of this valuable piece of photography lighting equipment. The previous post centered around bouncing and reflecting light. What if you need the light to be more directional, you need more control? Then you must diffuse it. A diffuser attached to the flash is required. It's basically a translucent piece of plastic that attaches to the flash tube, creating a much softer light on the subject. Some flashes might come with a diffuser panel built-in or come with one to snap on. If not, no worries. There are plenty of diffusers on

Sometimes you don't need any extra accessories; just manipulate the settings on the camera or flash. You can reduce the amount of light from the flash by lowering the flash exposure compensation, or dial it up a bit if you need more –depending on what you are photographing. Take advantage of the flash's power output while still utilizing the flash's automatic metering.

Lastly, take your external flash off the camera for a change. There is only so much you can do with it in the same position atop your camera. Check if the flash is wireless first, otherwise you will need an off-camera hot-shoe cord. (Wireless will give you a greater range, naturally.) Experiment moving the flash around to see how it affects your photographs.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Expanding Usage with an External Flash

Quite some time ago we talked about the basics of an external flash, also known as a speedlite. Essentially, professional photographers will take much better shots with an external rather than relying on the camera's internal flash. But how can you get the most of your external? There are quite a number of tips and tricks –some we'll go over today and the rest we'll continue next week.

The first tip is to bounce the light from the external flash. This is great for indoor shots because it can enhance your photos. Angle the flash towards the ceiling, which essentially gives you a large light-colored surface to reflect off of –meaning you have a large softbox without an actual softbox. Try rotating it to bounce light off the wall as well or angle it into a corner. All these methods will create a softer lighting scheme.

Okay what about situations where the ceilings are too high or if you're outdoors? In these scenarios, you need to reflect light in order to soften it. Some external flashes come with a white card that extends from the top. The purpose? When the flash is pivoted correctly, it will create a surface for the light to bounce off of toward the subject. If yours does not come with a card, look for accessories to attach to your flash that create a surface.

Check back next week for other great photography lighting equipment tips!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Look at the PocketWizard Plus III Transceiver

For anyone who knows the beauty and ease of the PocketWizard I and II Transceiver, get ready to be blown away by the latest edition in the series. The Plus III is intuitive and easy-to-use as both a remote flash and camera trigger. The receiver features 32 channels and selective Quad-Zone triggering –allowing you to trigger the flash and/or groups of cameras.

The design is sleek and is a side-view design, meaning you don't have to worry about the trigger obstructing your view. The antenna is inside the case for increased durability. Need the device to work at a great distance? Under good conditions, it has a range of 500 meters, or 1600 feet. But because we know conditions aren't always perfect, there are two range extending modes to help out. The Plus III also boasts a high speed receive rate. Normally the Plus III can trigger lights or cameras at 12 FPS, but in High Speed Receive Mode enjoy 14.5 FPS.

Connecting to your camera is a breeze. The Plus III slides nicely into the hot shoe, no cables needed. There is a sync port for the remotes and if you have a miniphone connector, the Plus III is compatible with a miniphone-to-miniphone cable. Look for the PocketWizard Plus III at (which is currently available for pre-order with free ground shipping), along with photography lighting equipment, wireless transmitters, and much, much more.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fluorescent Lighting in a Nutshell

We've spent quite a good deal of time recently informing you about photography lighting equipment. You already know about Tungsten lighting and you're more comfortable with strobe lights. Now it's finally time to discuss fluorescent lights. Most photographs that use fluorescent lights indoors seem more natural, especially black and white photographs. However, color photos tend to look a bit more unnatural. Fluorescent lights produce more blues and greens and lack in reds. Without the use of filters, you can expect a blueish/greenish tint on your photos. This can seem light a major disadvantage and might discourage new photographers. When used properly though, fluorescent lights can really shine –pun intended.

Fluorescent lights are brighter and more evenly light a room than Tungsten. With a higher level of light it is easier to receive enough exposure and can capture more detail that may have been lost in shadow areas. They are also not nearly as hot as Tugnsten, so your subject won't feel the heat after a long photo shoot. Another positive is they will create very soft light, similar to that of a softbox. Keep in mind that when photographing people, fluorescent lights can cause dark shadows underneath the eyes, making they appear sunk in.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Get Familiar with Strobe Lighting

Last week we delved into the world of Tungsten lighting and weighed the pros and cons. Today's discussion will be about strobe lighting. Light is created when a spark is thrown through a tube filled with gas. The result is a light with a very short duration. While that might seem like a disadvantage, it's actually not. The short duration means you need not fret about movement in your subject or camera. Another advantage of strobe lighting is that the light is the same color as daylight. If you remember from last week, Tungsten lighting is more yellowish in appearance.

Strobe lights are powerful little devices that need to be well maintained. The capacitor in the light can store nearly 4,000 watt-seconds –not a small number! Because you're receiving so much light from a small light source, the light can often be harsh. Light modifiers will be necessary to better control the light. Strobe lights need some form of reflector to control where the light is pointed. Umbrellas and softboxes are both excellent choices, which we discussed a few weeks ago.

Strobe lights are an essential part of studio photography and photography lighting equipment. They offer versatility and the most control. New users will quickly learn that you cannot see the effect the light has on the subject. A flash meter will be needed to determine exposure. Take a few test shots to see how they come out.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Understanding Tungsten Lighting

When lighting up a studio for the next great shot, there are numerous types of bulbs to choose from, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Tungsten lights, also known as continuous lighting, are a type of incandescent lighting and are different from both fluorescent and strobe lighting. The filament in these bulbs are made from the metal tungsten, hence their name. They are a popular choice among studio photographers, offering great flexibility and much warmer and softer light than fluorescent bulbs. Tungsten lighting reigned supreme for many years until the introduction of strobes, but it is still preferred by many photographers, as well as cinematographers.

Tungsten lights work continuously, making them easier to work with and consistent. They are also popular among wedding photographers because they can create dramatic shots. However, the main drawback to this photography lighting equipment is that they generate a lot of heat. When using them in conjunction with reflectors, umbrellas, etc., you must purchase equipment that can withstand higher temperatures. Don't be surprised when the room becomes quite uncomfortably hot after several hours of shooting. The filaments also age faster than those in strobe lights causing them to become more unpredictable. You will need to replace them much faster. 

Tungsten lighting will also create a yellowish appearance. Photographers utilize different daylight filters to correct the temperature or they choose a tungsten white balance on the camera to minimize the yellow tint. Consider the benefits of tungsten photography lighting equipment for your studio.  

Save 5% off your next purchase of Tungsten lights at by using the coupon "tungstenlight5" at checkout. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Illuminating Small Objects in a Light Tent

A light tent, also commonly known as a light shed, is used when photographing small items such as jewelry or small electronics. The tent is made out of a translucent nylon material and most come with backgrounds that attach to the inside. The purpose? To diffuse light evenly around the subject, soften the light, and reduce shadows.

When using a light tent, choose your attached background carefully. The biggest mistake is choosing a background that will blend into the subject. Subjects that are reflective by nature, though, will need a surface that is similar in color. For example, if you're photographing a vase with a black glaze, a white background will create a white reflection. Instead, choose a darker color surface to create a less noticeable reflection.

Lighting around the tent is just as important. Use at least two light sources –add a third to the front if you still see shadows. Daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs produce the most natural lighting. The lights should be set at the same level as the subject. You will need stabilization to ensure the best shot, so utilize carbon fiber tripods to reduce the chances of blur in the photograph. When you're ready to shoot, place the camera in the small opening of the shed.

Light sheds are part of the vast selection of photography lighting equipment offered at Save 5% off your next order, through Friday the 10th, by using the coupon code LightShed5.