July 2011 Archives

Did I tell you about the mosquito ("skeeter") in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that was soooo big that it tried to take my Nikon D7000 away from me? I'm still shaking when I think about it. I've not even been able to take any good handheld pictures since then. I'm too shaky from remembering the incident.

I found out later that there is a species of mosquito in the Smokies that basically collects cameras. A ranger found quite a cache of Nikons in a hollow tree the other day. They're auctioning them off to benefit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There were no other brands of camera found besides Nikon. At least they have good taste.

A .45 caliber pistol is the only effective repellent for these dudes. Even Smoky Bear runs from them. You may have seen some of them in the movie Jumanji; you remember, the one with Robin Williams and the weird game. They had captured a couple dozen of them for the movie and trained them. It didn't work out so well, though, 'cause the skeeters stole a car and went on a wild rampage, smashing buildings, other cars, houses, and such. In fact, some of the wreckage in the movie Jumanji was real. They said, what the heck, we might as well film what the skeeters did, since we'll have to pay for it anyway.

Be very careful in the Smokies if you are carrying a Nikon, especially digital. They seem extra interested in the digitals. Maybe it's the EM radiation from the CMOS and CCD imaging sensor chips. And, no matter what, don't come wearing any concoction containing DEET (skeeter nerve agent found in many repellent sprays). These skeeters drink the stuff like soda pop and are quite addicted to it. They'll break your car window to get to the bottle of skeeter repellent.

They seem to hang out around the Tremont area and the middle prong of the Little Pigeon River. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen many of the little pigeons around the river these days!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Back in 1979 I bought a great slide projector and a screen of my own. I had a few boxes of Kodachromes lying around, so I thought I'd invite all my friends and family over for a nice slide viewing.

Things went well up to about the fortieth slide. Then, boredom started setting in. Not MY boredom mind you, but that of my friends and family. I could tell it was over when my best friend accidentally knocked over the screen on the way to the bathroom and everyone cheered.

The dinner afterward was nice, but I doubted I'd ever do a slide show again. I learned something that day. My images mean a lot to me, but to others, not quite so much.

Later on, after filling up a lot of albums with prints, I would invite friends over for dinner and "let" them see more of my images. I was quite amazed to find that the average friend's tolerance for images was about 36 or so. After that, the eyes begin to glaze and strange groaning utterances would proceed from slack, drooling lips.

For years afterward, I would only show images to friends with big DSLR cameras. Of course, in exchange, I had to sit through thousands of boring pictures produced by them. I don't even fully remember some of those sessions since I clearly entered a state of photo induced stupor.

It was hard for me to imagine that MY images could be boring to others. "No way!" I would say. "Way," said they!

Well, time passed and with it wisdom grew on my part. When I felt the need to display my exceedingly wonderful images, I would show them to my wife. When I noticed her eye start twitching, I would stop there and count the images. From that, I learned that a wife could handle up to twice as many images as the standard friend could. Finally, I could get away with image presentation for a limited time. My record is now up to about 40 images for friends and around 86 with the wife. My sweet mom has been known to sit for as many as 100 images without drooling.

In July 2002 things changed. I bought a digital camera and stopped making prints or slides. I discovered that I could load up an e-mail with maybe six digital images and send it to dozens of people at once. With great satisfaction I calculated that if 30 people viewed six of my images, it would equal a single friend viewing 180 of them. On top of that, I found that many people with brains dulled by endless e-mail SPAM would actually take as many as three e-mails per day without complaint. Can you imagine my happiness when I realized that the equivalent would be a single friend looking at 540 of my incredible images?

Happiness is upon me! Who needs slide shows or albums full of prints, when with a single click I can send my images off into the ethernet for viewing by many. When I imagine that some of those friends might be forwarding the images on to their friends and family, I get downright giddy. Thousands upon thousands of people out there appreciatively viewing my astounding images.

I must stop writing now since I just bought one of those e-mail lists with about 30-million e-mail addresses. I am putting together 10 completely unbelievable images for a mass mailing. When I think of the great joy I have brought to all my friends and family—and their friends and family—with my hourly e-mails, I know this is the right thing to do.

So, if you get one of my photos in your e-mail, be happy. I am!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

"Film tells the truth!" "What you see is what you get." "A transparency or negative contains a true record of reality." "You just can't trust a digital image!"

These are strong statements, but reflect the feelings of many film purists. On the other hand, people using digital imaging speak of the ease with which their digital cameras—and later their computers with Photoshop—allow them to adjust an image until it looks like what they saw when they took the photograph.

One photographer I know is unhappy with digital imaging because his images often lack the initial "snap" or contrast that a well-exposed Velvia slide exhibits. He refuses to adjust the digital images in any way, since that would alter the "reality" of the subject. He is a purist, and feels that his film images reflect a pureness of reality that no digital image can attain. Many others feel the same way he does.

A clearly manipulated digital image – Is this wrong?

So, is digital a lie, just because one can modify the image in many ways, in-camera, and in-computer? Let's consider a few points often overlooked by those concerned about digital image reality.

First, we'll look back many years to a time before photography as we know it. Think about the time of the oil painting as a means to record and remember people, places, and things. The artist, as a purist, would do his or her best to record a scene in an accurate way. A beautiful landscape would flow through the eyes and from the artist's fingers onto a canvas. Later, someone familiar with the real scene could attest that the painting was an accurate rendition of the reality. But, it was, nevertheless, an artist's rendition, not the reality. The artist would mix paints until they closely represented the color of the sky, trees, water, and objects. But, were they exact colors? Close, maybe, but not the exact same as the reality. It would be virtually impossible to capture the colors of light in the pigments of oil paint.

And then, as a paid artist, would you accurately paint the features of a rich client somewhat past the bloom of youth? Or, would you be inclined to leave out a few facial lines, darken the hair, and slim down the figure a bit? Would your brush allow you enough resolution to record the finest details in your subject? Probably not. As a purist, you might want to accurately reflect reality, but you would have various limitations in your ability to do so. You would do your best to make the image reflect what you saw when you made the painting, within the limitations imposed by the recording medium. But you, as the artist, would make the final decision as to the outcome of your image. It would tend to reflect your own sight and feelings.

Moving on up a few years to the birth of photography, consider the advent of recording a scene on chemically coated metal or glass plates and finally onto paper. At first, the images were made in black & white. If a photographer wanted to capture an image closer to reality, he or she would have had to take the picture, then use paint or pencils to colorize the image. Many fine images were made by those methods, but they were limited by the lack of real color and the interpretation of the photographic artist's feelings about the image. Later, real color photography came into being, and results moved closer to reality. Purism was more possible. But, think about it a bit. Which reflects more reality, a black & white print, or a Velvia transparency? Does either really represent reality? How often is reality not captured by the film medium due to limitations within the medium itself? How about 99 percent of the time?

Originally in color but converted to black and white

No black & white print contains reality, since we live in a colorful world. But, many proponents of black & white would argue that shooting without color makes one focus on the subject in a more intense way. Black & white images truly can be moving, can't they? But, in no way can it be argued that things really look that way to a normal human. The black and white images simply represent an interpretation of reality as seen by the photographer. But, what about color prints and slides? Don't they capture color in a way that reflects the reality of the scene? In a word...NO! As pure as the photographer may feel, the very film one uses changes the scope of reality. Ektachrome presents a beautiful image, as does Velvia. But, side by side each of them contains interpretations of reality as seen by the film manufacturers. Each shows the image in a different way and with different colors. Many photographers use a certain film for a specific type of photography, and change to another film for a different type.

If you are a portrait photographer, still using film, do you often use a hard edged colorful film like Velvia to take pictures of your clients? Not if you want to stay in business. Velvia is one of the sharpest films ever created, so it will show every line, wrinkle, gray hair, and bulge of your subjects. And the skin colors with Velvia do not reflect reality. So, instead many use films like Fuji NPS portrait film that is softer in focus, and much less colorful. Some photographers even go so far as to use lenses that deliberately defocus the image, so that a flattering image can be made of almost anyone. Not much reality there!

But, what if one is a nature photographer, where skin tones don't matter so much. Do you use Fuji NPS Portrait film to take pictures of those colorful flowers, birds, and landscapes? Not likely, since NPS does not "pop" the colors like Velvia does. Why is Velvia one of the most popular films ever invented? Is it because it accurately records the colors of the subjects? No way! Velvia saturates greens and reds and blues in a way that makes nature images look really great. Pure and accurate, no. Beautiful, yes! Each film manufacturer promotes their film for its specific interpretation of reality. As a photographer, a great many choices of emulsions give you films that reflect your feelings. But, each renders reality in a different way.

Have you ever put a filter on your camera? Ooops, you just bent reality. That polarizer that is omnipresent on your lenses for landscape photography changes the truth. Have you ever used a graduated neutral density filter to allow you to capture a landscape with dim ground and bright skies? Your eyes can see the full range of light, the reality, but the film can't contain it. So you have to modify the truth by holding back the brightness of the sky.

Did you ever use a faster film so that you could get detail in your image when there is less light? Of course you have. Your eyes can see the darker reality, but your slow film can't.

And we have arrived at the main point.

In all the things we have considered, everything is a manipulation of the reality. No medium can possibly reflect the reality of the images our eyes see. We have to use the tools we have available to create a copy of the image we saw with our own eyes. We all have different feelings about the images we capture, and use different means to capture them. The images become our own version of reality.

Light through a window – fine art reality?

With a digital camera, the tools to interpret what we see are in great abundance. And later, in the computer, with imaging programs like Photoshop or Lightroom, even more flexibility is available. In the camera, we can change the color balance from image to image to better reflect what we see. We can change the light gathering power of the camera by upping the ISO at any time. We don't need various film emulsions, because we can change the saturation levels of the color, either in the camera, or in the computer. We don't need neutral density filters. Instead, we can hold back the bright sky by taking two pictures, one of the sky, and one of the ground, then combining them with a computer into one image that reflects as much reality as we can muster. Is that bad? Is that a lie?

No it isn't! In fact, with a digital camera it is possible to capture the purest forms of visual reality that can be captured with any technology, including film. Only the eye can do it better.

But, what about digital photographers who choose to remove a distracting light spot, some ugly weeds, or a limb from an image. Is that bad? What if a digital photographer uses the "healing brush" and other tools in Photoshop to remove a blemish from a person's face or darken the hair of a portrait subject? Are these things bad? Well, that's up to you. If persons who shoot only film had the opportunity to do so, would they not take it? Of course they would, and did, and do, every day in wet darkrooms around the world. Wet prints often do not reflect the reality of the subject; it is just much harder to accomplish the manipulation.

There will always be "purists" who insist that only the camera should be allowed to make an image—nothing should be changed in the computer—and then they take their lovely images to the lab where they select the finest grade of paper so that their version of reality can be more easily seen. But, which version of the reality are they printing? The Velvia version, or the Provia version, or maybe even the Agfa version?

Do you get my point? Reality is relative to the creator of the image, and the tools he or she uses. And, it is completely open to the interpretation of the photographer/artist. With my digital camera and computer, I can make an image look the way I want it too and it's pretty easy to do so.

So, then, should we not use digital photography because it is relatively easy to remove flaws from images or even add things that weren't even in the original image? No, again, because an unethical yet skilled person can manipulate images in the wet darkroom or by sandwiching slides. If one chooses to be dishonest, there's always a way to further the dishonesty. Whether paintings, film, or digital is used to capture images, reality can and will be bent to the interpretation of the artist. That is life and the true reality!

A new form of expression arrived with the advent of digital photography. A joyous way to make images that either closely reflect your memory and feelings or wildly distort the images in any way you choose. Just because it is easier to manipulate reality doesn't mean that ethical people will suddenly become liars. In a way, those who feel snooty about older methods are rather insulting to honest digital photographers. In my opinion, digital photography has opened doors of self-expression to all of us. We now have the ability to control the creative process from the time we press the shutter, until we print our image out on nice archival paper for the next generation to gain joy from.

Don't try overly hard to be a purist, because, in reality it is impossible to do it. No matter what one does with a camera, reality cannot be accurately captured; only one's interpretation of it. But, if you insist on purism, please realize that digital imaging actually allows one to capture images more accurately than film does. Do not turn digital down, just because some will be dishonest and "create" things that never were. If you decide to modify your image, simply caption it accordingly, and go "make" some more images.

Release the artist within yourself. Don't believe the lie that digital photography "manipulation" is somehow wrong—other than in photojournalism where accuracy matters. Digital manipulation is merely a tool to be used by honest people to make some of the best images they'll ever experience. With a digital camera and knowledge of Photoshop, you will create images that are the greatest truths that ever flowed from within you. Release your ability with very few limitations. Use your digital camera to capture saturated pieces of time. Your children and their children will remember you for it.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Have you ever needed to transfer images to your notebook computer, but had no USB cable with you?  Have you ever been shooting an event and thought how nice it would be if your images could quickly show up on a nearby computer?  Would you like to shoot in your home studio and have the images go directly to your laptop for processing, with no wires or extra software purchases needed?

Until recently, there were only a few choices that would allow you to do the things mentioned previously. You could buy a Nikon® WT-4 Wireless Transmitter for about the same cost as a mid-level DSLR camera body.  Or, you could plug in an actual wire and hope you don’t trip over it.

For most of us, wireless (Wi-Fi) image transfers were a pricey proposition—until Eye-Fi® offered a low-cost solution. For a very reasonable price, you can buy an Eye-Fi® wireless memory card for a camera that supports SD/SDHC; such as the Nikon D300S, D7000, D90, D5100, D5000, D3100, and D3000. They are virtually identical to a normal SD card, but allow you limited-distance wireless image transfers directly to a Wi-Fi enabled computer of your choice.

The Eye-Fi 8GB Pro X2 Wi-Fi Card for Nikons that can use SD cards

The Eye-Fi® company makes several SD/SDHC cards with built-in Wi-Fi transmitters.  The picture above shows my personal Eye-Fi 8GB Pro X2 high-speed “Class 6” level card (6 MB per second write speed).
With an Eye-Fi card inserted, and Eye-Fi software installed on your laptop computer—or any computer connected via a wireless network connection—you can take pictures and they are automatically transferred to the computer.

Most lower-cost Eye-Fi cards require a local wireless network to transfer the images. However, recently Eye-Fi came out with a card that will do “Ad Hoc” transfers; meaning that they don’t need a wireless network connection via a wireless access point.  The Pro X2 card will send pictures directly to a computer with wireless capability with no intermediate network required.

Eye-FI separates their Ad Hoc transfer capable card(s) under the “Pro” moniker.  The other cards have names like Connect X2, Geo X2, and Explore X2.  Only the Pro X2 cards can do the “no network required,” direct to notebook computer Ad Hoc file transfers. 

Since memory cards are extremely volatile, price-wise, I’m sure that capacities and card names will change quickly.  However, just be aware that only the cards considered pro-level by Eye-Fi will do Ad Hoc transfers.

The Eye-Fi card partially inserted into a Nikon D300S's SD slot

I’ve been using an Eye-Fi card for quite some time and wanted to give you some information on how they work:

Eye-Fi Card Cost & Availability – According to which card you purchase, Eye-Fi cards cost from $49.95 to $149.95 USD, and are available for purchase at most online camera stores and many brick & mortar stores. 

Memory Capacity – Current Eye-Fi X2 cards are available in 4 and 8 GB memory capacities. Eye-Fi previously made a series of older cards that do not bear the X2 monikor. The standard capacity on the early cards was 2GB. These older cards may not support some of the following Eye-Fi standards. Buy the X2 cards for best functionality!

Image Transfer Range - Wi-Fi publishes on their website that their cards can transfer images from 50 feet (15.2m) when shooting inside. If you are outside, with nothing between you and the receiving computer, the card can transfer images from up to 90 feet (27.4m) distance. In actual use, I’ve found that while the Eye-Fi card can indeed approach a 50 foot range indoors, the speed drops as you move farther away from the receiving computer. To get the best use out of the card, I would recommend staying within eyesight range of the computer (20-30 feet), and keeping it in the same room, if possible.

The Eye-Fi is a unique card with a built-in transmitter – It makes your images fly (through the air)

Card Profile Required - When you set up your card, using included software from Eye-Fi, you create a profile on the card that matches it with a particular computer. It will not transfer images to any other computer except the one that has the proper profile. That’s a good thing! Otherwise, anybody with a wireless device could grab your images as they fly through the air.

Private Wi-Fi Networks – You’ll need a Wi-Fi network to transfer images for the non-Pro X2 cards. You can configure the card to work under up to 32 specific private Wi-Fi networks. If the networks are security encrypted, you’ll have to know the proper key name/password to use it. You specify these details in the card’s profile for each private Wi-Fi network you often use. When you take pictures and come within range of one of those networks, the camera will automatically begin downloading images to your computer. There is a bit of handshaking with Eye-Fi servers that can take a few minutes sometimes.

Ad-Hoc Networks – You can configure a “Pro X2” Eye-Fi card (only) to do ad-hoc file transfers.  In effect, the Eye-Fi card become a wireless transmitter that can talk directly to a Wi-Fi enabled notebook or desktop computer—without an intervening network.  This is a more professional way of doing things, and allows you to take your computer and camera to places where there are no Wi-Fi networks, and still wirelessly transfer images. I configured my notebook computer so that it finds a normal wireless network, when available, so that I can browse the internet. However, even if a wireless network is currently available—an ad-hoc transfer does not use it—and does not interfere with normal internet usage, either. As soon as you turn the camera on with an enabled Eye-Fi card, it makes an Ad Hoc connection to the computer and they shake hands. When you take a picture, the download begins almost immediately. The Ad-Hoc connection is completely separate from normal wireless computer to internet connectivity. Currently, only one card, the Eye-Fi 8GB Pro X2 ($149 USD) will transfer directly to a notebook computer without needing a wireless network as an intermediary. The other cards cost less, but require a wireless network connection to move images.

Open Wi-Fi Networks – You can specify in the card profile that it is allowed to use open networks freely. If you are in range of an open Wi-Fi network the card will do its job immediately. Lots of places provide free internet connectivity. In fact, with all the people out there using wireless networks without a clue about security, you could probably drive through an average subdivision and transfer your images.

The Eye-Fi card is exactly the same size as a normal SD card

Hotspot Access Service – Eye-Fi made a deal with AT&T that gives you access to over 21,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the USA. That means you can upload images at places like Starbucks, Marriott Hotels, and Barnes & Nobles bookstores (being sure to browse the Mastering The Nikon DSLR books from NikoniansPress while there, of course). Eye-Fi Explore X2 and Pro X2 cards come with one year of included hotspot access. The service costs money after the first year. However, it is only $29.99 USD per year, currently.  Connect X2 and GEO X2 cards require that you purchase hotspot access initially.

File Formats (RAW vs. JPEG) – Eye-Fi cards generally work only with JPEG files.  However, the new 8GB Pro X2 card now supports both JPEG and NEF (RAW) files. If you shoot mostly in RAW, you’ll need to use a Pro X2 card to transfer your images.

Endless Memory - The Eye-Fi card offers a mode called “Endless Memory” on their X2 cards.  If you activate this mode, the card will intelligently make room when it is nearing capacity.  It will remove old images that have been successfully transferred, to allow room for new images. You can shoot endlessly without filling up the card.  Would that be convenient—event shooters?

File-Sharing Websites - If you really want to, you can have the Eye-Fi card transfer images to file sharing services like Flickr®, SmugMug®, Zenfolio®, and facebook®. You can send the images to 25 different file-sharing websites.  You can even transfer your videos to YouTube®!  This is configured in the card’s profile at setup.

Network Speeds Supported – The Eye-Fi card can support most of today’s network speed standards. Specifically, they support 802.11b (11 megabits per second), 802.11g (54 megabits per second), and 802.11n (300 megabits per second).  I recommend using the fastest speeds you can get! An 802.11b  network can be frustratingly slow with large RAW files. In fact, I wouldn’t use an 802.11b network for anything but small JPEG file transfers.

Camera Battery Life – According to Eye-Fi, when using the Eye-Fi Card to take photos, “a camera’s battery life will not be noticeably shorter than when using a standard SD memory card.” However, when you are actively transferring images to your computer battery usage goes up. Any time you fire up a radio signal, which is what an Eye-Fi card and Wi-Fi network uses, you’ll have significantly larger requirements for power. I heartily recommend having multiple batteries when doing extended shoots with full-time image transfer. Your Nikon DSLR's accessory battery pack would be a great help. The card itself does not drain your batteries excessively during normal picture taking. However, the process of transferring images will have you sending images by radio to a computer, so the battery drain is naturally higher. I would recommend using an Eye-Fi card on 803.11g or 803.11n (54 or 300 MB per second speed) Wi-Fi networks, or you may experience excessive battery drain—merely because it will take significantly longer to transfer the images.  In other words, leave 803.11b (11 MB per second speed) networks alone, when possible.

An Eye-Fi card is a great addition to your Nikon armory

Internal Memory Type – I read a review of an Eye-Fi card where a fellow pulled his apart to see what was inside. His card was using Samsung® memory. This could change at any time, of course.

Geotagging of Images – If you don’t use a Nikon GP-1 GPS (or other brand) and would like to have latitude and longitude information added to your image’s EXIF metadata, you’ll find Eye-Fi’s geotagging services convenient.  Eye-Fi cards do not have built in GPS sensing equipment, so it is not as accurate as a normal GPS unit. Instead of GPS, Eye-Fi uses what’s called the Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS).  It works a little like GPS by sensing the positions of surrounding known Wi-Fi networks—even ones that you do not have in your list of approved uploading networks. When you upload your images via the Eye-Fi card wireless transfer, each image has positioning information written to the EXIF header metadata of the image. One problem I can see with this service is that you must be in an area with multiple Wi-Fi networks in order to use geotagging.  If you are shooting in the wilds of Africa, Yosemite, or the Great Smoky Mountains you’d best have a real GPS unit. There are no Wi-Fi networks hanging around the wilderness areas.  City dwellers should be able to use geotagging with ease. Eye-Fi has partnered with Skyhook Wireless who has mapped millions of geographic coordinates around the world. Skyhook estimates that is has 70% of the populated areas of the USA, Canada, Germany, France, and the UK covered. In other areas of Europe only the top 50 metropolitan areas are covered. The GEO X2, Explore X2, and Pro X2 cards all have free, unlimited, lifetime geotagging included. If you use a lower-priced Eye-Fi card you can buy the geotagging service for $14.99 USD per year.

Eye-Fi cards work with Nikonians.org's Annotate software

Nikonians® Annotate Expert Software and Eye-Fi Cards – If you’ve used the excellent Nikonians® Annotate Expert software to write annotations on your images for sharing and educational purposes, you may be using the convenient tethered mode. In that mode you connect your camera to your laptop computer and images flow directly into Annotate Expert. Well, things just got even more convenient!  The latest version of Annotate Expert now has built-in Eye-Fi functionality.  Instead of having to plug your camera into the computer with a wire, you can let your Eye-Fi card handle the uploading wirelessly and Annotate will pull the images in automatically. When you select tethered mode (Ctrl-T), you can choose two new selections from the list of cameras, Eye-Fi JPEG and Eye-Fi RAW. Annotate seamlessly imports the images into its tethered mode window for your immediate use. Bo Stahlbrandt—co-owner of Nikonians.org—reviews Annotate Expert here:http://www.nikonians.org/resources/reviews/annotate-expert-review-en

Should I use an Eye-Fi Card Instead of a Nikon WT-4 Wireless Transmitter? – For a professional living by his images, I would say no. The WT-4 is a very fast, long range transmitter, with multiple modes, designed to let a pro control where when and how his or her images arrive at a receiving computer. Its price reflects its power. The Eye-Fi card is slower and has significantly shorter range.  However, it works well with the faster network types, and will provide advanced amateur and semi-pro level functionality. I bet a few pros also have an Eye-Fi card in their bags for an emergency backup.

Can I Transfer Images Wirelessly to a Non-Wi-Fi Computer? – I’ve not figured out how to do it, yet, although I wish I could. If you figure out how, let me know, please! The whole Eye-Fi process requires either a wireless network, or an Ad Hoc configuration to a computer equipped with wireless capability. I tried installing the Eye-Fi software on my main computer with its wired network; hoping I could transfer the images to the internet, and then have them appear on my internet connected non-wireless computer. Instead, once installed, the Eye-Fi software is completely non-functional. It opens with frustrating blank screens that do nothing. I wish the software would open and say something like “Hey dummy, why are you wasting your time installing me on a non-wireless computer?”  I wasted a good half hour fiddling with the software on my non-wireless computer before my brain finally reminded me, “You need a wireless computer for a Wi-Fi connection...duh!”

Can I use an SD to CF adapter? - Most SD/SDHC compatible cameras can use an Eye-Fi card to transfer pictures wirelessly.  Some people use an SD/SDHC to CF card converter and use the Eye-Fi cards in cameras with only a CF port (like the Nikon D300).  This may or may not be a successful operation.  Here are some comments from Eye-Fi’s website (http://www.eye.fi) on the subject of using the SD/SDHC-based Eye-FI cards in CF converters:

Eye-Fi does not support the use of SD to CF card adapters with the Eye-Fi Card. Eye-Fi has not tested the Eye-Fi Card in cameras designed to use CF cards and has no explicit knowledge to share about the success of these adapters when used with an Eye-Fi Card. We only support the Eye-Fi Card in cameras designed to use SD or SDHC cards. We are aware that many users want the Eye-Fi Card functionality in their CF-based cameras and have opted to use a CF card adapter to get the functionality offered by an Eye-Fi Card. The following list of known issues with CF card adapters is a collection of information gathered directly from customer and blogger descriptions of issues they have experienced. By sharing this information Eye-Fi accepts no responsibility for problems encountered when using the Eye-Fi Card and a CF Card adapter.
  • Wireless range of the Eye-Fi Card is noticeably reduced.
  • Formatting the Eye-Fi Card in a CF adapter has caused the Eye-Fi Card to fail.
  • File corruption of photos.

Eye-Fi Card Advanced Use – If you’re intending to use your Eye-Fi card as a serious wireless device, and have no interest in all the bells and whistles like hotspots, geotagging, uploading to file sharing sites, etc.—you may want to consider the Pro X2 card and disable various features. I’ve found that Eye-Fi’s normal Wi-Fi “Relayed Transfer” is simply too slow for large RAW or JPEG files. You see, when you take a picture with Relayed Transfer enabled the image must flow to Eye-Fi’s servers out there on the internet before being transferred back to your computer. Imagine the time and battery drain involved with files larger than small point-and-shoot’s JPEGs flowing across the internet and then back to your computer. That’s like an upload and download—and we know how long that can take. Relayed Transfer doesn’t work fast enough on a 11-25 megabyte RAW file, yet it’s the default mode for Eye-Fi cards. The best (and quite usable) transfer speed I’ve achieved is by using an Ad Hoc wireless connection directly between the camera and computer with no Relayed Transfer.  This makes the image go directly to your computer with no internet flow involved.  With this type of setup the Eye-Fi card is pretty fast, and even large RAW files only take a few seconds each to wirelessly upload to your computer. You can disable Relayed Transfer under the Transfer Mode tab of the Eye-Fi software.  Unfortunately, when you disable Relayed Transfer, you lose all the neat little things like transferring files while you have a Big Mac® at McDonalds.  Instead, in non-relay mode your camera and computer are married and depend on each other for file transfer. As a pro shooter, you’ll find the Eye-Fi card very usable in Ad Hoc non-relayed mode.  Only the Pro X2 card allows for Ad Hoc connections, so a professional should consider no less.  It’s only $149.99 USD for adding Wi-Fi to your camera.

Eye-Fi card – The easiest way to backup and share

About Eye-Fi - Founded in 2005, Eye-Fi® is dedicated to building products and services that help consumers manage, nurture and share their visual memories. Eye-Fi’s patented and patent-pending technology wirelessly and automatically uploads photos and videos from digital imaging devices, including digital cameras and the iPhone, to online, in-home, and retail destinations. They are headquartered in Mountain View, California, USA. More information is available at www.eye.fi.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

So, you've bought that Nikon® digital camera you've wanted for a while. The first step is complete! What is step number two? Get a printer? Nope! Step two is to buy a monitor calibration system. Especially if you shoot RAW (NEF) images!
Why is that the second step to digital excellence? Well, it all boils down to a capability our human brain has that can hinder our ability to process accurate color images in our computers, after the fact. "What is that capability," you might ask? Our brains are selective and adaptive. Our cameras are not nearly so powerful. What I am talking about is simply this—when you walk into a room from outside and see a family member reading a book under a tungsten lamp, what color are the book's pages to you? White, right? "Yes," you may say, "but, so what?" Well, if you took a picture of the book under the lamp light, those "white" pages would have a strong orange color from the tungsten light. Your brain sees white, even though the light is truly not white. Your incredible brain has automatic white balancing! That's a real problem for photographers.
Following is a sample night-time image that I took recently. It has about four types of lighting in the image. I was doing time exposures while waiting for a nice lightning strike. It was storming while I stood on the front porch with my Nikon on a tripod. When I looked at the scene, I saw nice white lights, and finally a small lightning strike in the background. However, when I pulled the image up on my computer later, I was amazed to find weird light sources and color casts.
A night-time image with "colorful" lighting
The light on the left is yellow, the middle one is white, the right one is green, and the sky is bluish. But, my brain only saw white lights. Had I really taken the time to look, I'm sure I would have noticed the color casts, but the point is, I would have had to force myself to think about it carefully and turn off my brain's automatic white balance before I would see the different colors. My brain, and yours, automatically balances light sources in a way that no camera ever will. That, my friend, is a problem!

As you sit down with your monitor that you see everyday, you don't notice any color casts, do you? Your brain has grown accustomed to the colors of your screen. But, unless your monitor has been calibrated, it is likely notaccurate and viewing your carefully created images on it will not show them correctly. You might feel that an image you took is too warm, or has too much red, when in fact, it is balanced correctly. When you open an image and start looking for color casts, you've turned off your brain's automatic system for a few minutes, without thinking about it. But, since you've grown accustomed to the standard colors your monitor displays, you may be seeing a color cast in your images that are not really there.

Basically, it boils down to this question: Can I trust my camera's white balance in all instances? No, you can't! It can only create consistent color if you are shooting in one light type that never varies, or constantly adjusting the white balance to the light in which you are shooting the pictures. If you aren't doing that, you may be introducing color casts during post-processing and your monitor will not tell you the truth when it shows them to you.

Are you really sure the green cast you removed from that last image was really there? How do you know? What if the picture was accurate and you removed green? Your image will show a blue or red color cast on other people’s more balanced monitors, while on your unbalanced monitor it may look perfectly correct. If you are really concerned about the quality of your images, shouldn't you think seriously about calibrating your monitor?

I calibrate my monitor every two weeks. Some do it weekly or even daily. Why? Unless you've been calibrating monitors regularly you would be surprised how far off the color balance can get in only a few days. Your monitor displays color in three channels called RGB for red, green, and blue. Each of these channels are individually balanced to input a certain set value of that color. The combination of different levels of RGB make up all the colors your monitor can produce. But, what if the individually adjustable red channel is too high, or the blue, or green? Your brain will adjust in a short time to the unbalance and see everything as just right. Then when you open an image and are looking for color casts, your brain may be fooled into seeing something that's not really there. In only a few days after calibration, your monitor's RGB color channels will drift slightly and introduce a slight color cast into your images. I didn't realize this until I started regularly calibrating. Now, I calibrate faithfully.

The solution is to buy a low-cost monitor calibration system. My favorite is the Datacolor® Spyder 3 Pro color meter and software. It runs about US$110 for a complete hardware/software package that will keep your monitor in top calibration, with all the RGB channels in exact balance, and brightness under control. Only then will you have an accurate display of your excellent images.

Besides Datacolor, there are several other monitor calibration vendors that offer reasonable or even lower prices. Considering the low cost, there is little excuse for not having a calibrated and profiled monitor to accurately show your images. Think about how much you've paid for your highly-calibrated Nikon DSLR and its excellent lenses. Why spend all that money on premium camera hardware, shoot great images, and then post-process your RAW images on an non-calibrated monitor.

When it comes time to print, you'll find it much easier to get good results if your monitor is calibrated. When I first started trying to print digital images with my inkjet printer, I was coming up with some very funny looking colors. I spent considerable time and money trying to understand why my images printed too green, or too red, when they looked fine on my monitor. I almost gave up and went back to the commercial labs; however, I started doing some research instead and read up on the problems that result from an unbalanced monitor. When I bought my Spyder 3 Pro system, I was simply amazed at how far off my expensive 20 inch flat screen display was. After I calibrated the monitor, and created a profile, I found it was much easier to print nice color-balanced pictures.

This information applies to any type of monitor, especially older CRT types. Even LCD (TFT) displays need to be balanced. Any time you are working with color spaces and converting between different devices like cameras, monitors, and printers, it is always best to have color profiles that help keep the colors close to what you expect. It isn't perfect, but it sure beats making 12 prints to get one with good color balance!

For about US$100 (or less) you can own a monitor calibration and profiling system that complements your expensive Nikon camera. Why take chances with your monitor's color balance? Get yourself some color insurance. Go buy or borrow a monitor calibration system and profile your monitor. You'll then see what you've been missing all along. If you are like me, you won't believe it until you see it. But, once you do, you'll never go back to the old way.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

Using your camera’s histogram screens will guarantee you a much higher percentage of well-exposed images. It is well worth spending time to understand the histogram. It’s not as complicated as it looks.

I’ll try to cover this feature with enough detail to give you a working knowledge of how to use the histogram to make better pictures. If you are deeply interested in the histogram, there is a lot of research material available on the Internet. Although this overview is brief, it will present enough knowledge to improve your technique immediately.

Light Range

The camera’s sensor can only record a certain range of light values—about 5 to 7 usable EV steps. Unfortunately, many of the higher-contrast subjects we shoot can contain over 12 stops of light values. This is quite a bit more than it is possible to capture in a single exposure. It’s important to understand how your camera records light so that you can better control how the image is captured.

Figure 1 – A basic histogram
 Look at figure 1 closely. The gray rectangular area represents an in-camera histogram. Examine it carefully! Think about it for a minute before reading on.

The histogram is basically a graph that represents the maximum range of light values your camera can capture, in 256 steps (0 = pure black, and 255 = pure white). In the middle of the histogram are the mid-range values that represent middle colors like grays, light browns, and greens. The values from just above zero and just below 255 contain detail.

The actual histogram graph looks like a mountain peak, or a series of peaks, and the more there is of a particular color, the taller the peak. In some cases the graph will be rounder on top, and in other cases it will be flattened.

The left side of the histogram represents the maximum dark values that your camera can record. The right side represents the maximum brightness values your camera can capture. On either end of the histogram the light values contain no detail. They are either completely black or completely white.

The height of the histogram (top of mountain peaks) represents the amount of individual colors. You cannot easily control this value in-camera, other than changing to a Picture Control with more or less saturated color, so it is for your information only.

We are mostly concerned with the left- and right-side values of the histogram, since we do have much greater control over those (dark vs. light).

Simply put, the histogram’s left and right directions are related to the darkness and lightness of the image, while the up and down directions of the histogram (valleys and peaks) have to do with the amount of color information. I repeated this for emphasis!

The left (dark) and right (light) directions are very important for your picture taking. If the image is too dark, the histogram will show that by clipping off the light values on the left; or if it’s too light, by clipping on the right. This will become easier to understand as we look at well-exposed and poorly exposed images. Check out the Histogram Basic Tutorial in figure 2, and then we’ll look at things in more detail.

Figure 2 – Three histograms – one underexposed, one correctly exposed, and one overexposed

When you see the three histograms next to each other, does it make more sense? See how the underexposed histogram is all the way to the left of the histogram window and is clipped mid-peak? Then note how both edges of the well-exposed histogram just touch the edges of the histogram window. Finally, notice how the overexposed image’s histogram is crammed and clipped on the right. I hope this helps somewhat! Now let’s look at some histogram detail.

Histogram Shape

Look at the image in figure 3. It is well exposed with no serious problems. The entire light range of this particular image fits within the histogram window, which means that it’s not too light or too dark and will take very little or no adjustment to view or print.

Figure 3 – Good image with normal histogram shape, no clipping

It contains no more than 4 or 5 stops (EV steps) of light range. To finalize the image, I might increase the brightness in the trees a little, but otherwise it’s a sound image with potential for immediate usage.

Compare figure 3’s histogram to the histogram graph on the left in figure 4. See how the figure 3 histogram does not cram itself against the dark value side, as seen in figurte 4? In other words, the dark values are not clipped off on the left. This means that the camera recorded all the dark values in this image, with no loss of shadow detail.

Then look at the right side of the histogram graph and note that it is not completely against the right side, although quite close. The image contains all the light values available. Everything in between is exposed quite well, with full detail. A histogram does not have to cover the entire window for the exposure to be fine. When there is a very limited range of light, the histogram may be rather narrow.

The image in figure 3 is a relatively bland image with smooth graduations of tone, so it makes a nice smooth mountain-peak histogram graph. This will not occur every time, since most images contain quite a bit more color information. Each prominent color will be represented with its own peak on the histogram graph. The most prominent colors will have higher peaks, while the less prominent will have lower or no peaks.

As we progress into images with more color or light information, we’ll see that the histogram looks quite different.

Figure 4 – Histogram showing underexposure (dark side)

Look at the image in figure 4. This is from an image that exceeds the range of the camera’s digital sensor.
Notice that, overall, this image is dark and looks underexposed. The histogram in figure 4 is crammed to the left, effectively being clipped off. There are no gradual climbs like on a mountain range, from valley to peak and back to valley. Instead, the image shows up on the left side in mid-peak. It is clipped. This is an underexposed image and the histogram reflects that well.

The most important thing to understand when you see a histogram like the one in figure 8.45, with part of the peak clipped off on the left, is that some or all of the image is significantly underexposed.

Now look at a similar image in figure 5. In this image, a larger aperture was used and more light was allowed in. We can now see much more detail. However, once again, the range of light is too great for the sensor, so it is now clipped off on the highlight side (right). The dark-side value is not clipped; instead, the graph extends to the left dark-side edge but stops there.

Figure 5 – Image with highlights (bright side) clipped

The image in figure 5 shows more detail but is not professional looking and will win no awards. The range of light is simply too great to be recorded fully. Many of the details are overly light, and that can be seen by the clipping of the histogram on the right side. The most important thing to remember here is that when you see a histogram graph that is crammed all the way to the right and clipped, some or all of the image is significantly too light. Overall, a great deal of the image in figure 8.46 is recorded as pure white and is permanently gone, or blown out.

It is important that you try to center the histogram without clipping either edge. This is not always possible, as shown in figure 5, because the light range is often too great and the sensor or histogram window can’t contain it. If you center the histogram, your images will be better exposed. If you take a picture and the histogram graph is shifted way left or right, you can then retake the photograph, exposing in the direction of the opposite light value.

If there is too much light to allow centering the histogram, you must decide which part of the image is more important, the light or dark values, and expose for those values.

How Does the Eye React to Light Values? 

The camera, with its imaging sensor and glass lenses, is only a weak imitation of our marvelously designed eye and brain combination. There are very few situations in which our eyes cannot adjust to the available light range. So, as photographers, we are always seeking ways to record even a small portion of what our eye and mind can see.

Since our eyes tend to know that shadows are black, and expect that, it is usually better to expose for the highlights. If you see dark shadows, that seems normal. We’re simply not used to seeing light that’s so bright that all detail is lost. An image exposed for the dark values will look very weird because most highlight detail will be burned out.

Your eyes can see a huge range of light in comparison to your digital sensor. The only time you will ever see light values that are so bright that detail is lost is when you are looking directly at an overwhelmingly bright light, like the sun. So, in a worst-case scenario, expose the image so that the right side of the histogram graph just touches the right side of the histogram window, and the image will look more normal.

Since photography’s beginning, we have always fought with only being able to record a limited range of light. But, with the digital camera and its histogram, we can now see a visual representation of the light values and can immediately approve of the image, reshoot it with emphasis on lighter or darker values, or see that we must use a filter or multiple-exposure high dynamic range imaging (HDR) to capture it at all.

Computer Adjustment of Images 

Looking at the image in figure 6, taken in mid-day overhead sunshine, we see an example of a range of light that is too great to be captured by a digital sensor but is exposed in such a way that we can get a usable photo later.

Figure 6 – Cabin picture with correct exposure but dark shadows, and its histogram

Notice in figure 6 how the dark values are clipped off and dark detail is lost. But look to the right side of the histogram and notice how the light values are not clipped off. The camera recorded all the light values but lost some dark values.

Since our eye sees this as normal, this image looks okay. If we were standing there looking at the cabin ourselves, our eye would be able to see much more detail in the front porch area. But the camera just can’t record that much light range. If we want to get a bit more detail in the shadows than this image seems to contain, we can do it. Normally, a camera does not give us enough control to add light values on the fly, so we use the histogram to get the best possible exposure and then adjust the image later in the computer.

Some cameras can be profiled to capture light ranges more effectively in one direction or the other, but when you push one area, the opposite area must give. So, we need a way to take all this light and compress it into a more usable range.

Figure 7 – Post-processed cabin picture and its histogram (in-computer manipulation)

We are now entering the realm of post-processing, or in-computer image manipulation. Look at the image in figure 7. This is the exact same image as in figure 6, but it has been adjusted in Photoshop to cram more image detail into the histogram by compressing the mid-range values. Notice that the entire histogram seems to be farther right, toward the light side. Also notice that the mid-range peaks are basically gone. We removed a good bit of the mid-range, but since there was already a lot of mid-range there, our image did not suffer greatly.

How this computer post-processing was done is outside the scope of this book, but it is not very hard. Buy a program like Nikon Capture NX 2, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or another fine graphics program designed for photographers. Your digital camera and your computer are a powerful imaging combination—a digital darkroom, where you are in control from start to finish, from clicking the shutter to printing the image. But, retreating from philosophy, let’s continue with our histogram exploration. Notice in figure 7 how the histogram edge is just touching the highlight side of the histogram window?

A small amount of clipping is taking place, and you can see the slightly blown out area on the peak of the cabin’s roof. Sometimes a very small amount of clipping does not seriously harm the image.

The photographer must be the judge. The greater apparent detail in this image is the result of compressing the mid-range of the light values a bit in the computer. If you compress or make the mid-range light values smaller, that will tend to pull the dark values toward the light side and the light values toward the dark side. So, you will have more apparent detail in your image. It’s like cutting a section out of the middle of a garden hose. If you pull both of the cut ends together, the other two ends of the hose will move toward the middle, and the hose will be shorter overall. If you compress or remove the mid-range of the histogram, both ends of the graph will move toward the middle. If one end of the graph is beyond the edge of the histogram window (clipped off), it will be less so when the mid-range is compressed.

We are simply trying to make the histogram fit into the frame of its window. If we have to cut out some of the middle to bring both ends into the window, well, there is usually plenty in the middle to cut out, so the image rarely suffers. Remember, this is done outside of the camera in a computer. You can’t really control the in-camera histogram to compress values, but you need to be aware that it can be done in the computer so that you can expose accordingly with your camera’s histogram. Then you will be prepared for later post-processing of the image.

In fact, now that we have compressed the mid-range values, figure 8.48 more closely resembles what our eye normally sees, so it looks more normal to us.

In many cases, your progression from the shooting site to your digital darkroom can benefit if you shoot NEF (RAW) images.

A RAW digital image contains an adjustable range of light. With a RAW image you can use controls in Capture NX2, Photoshop, or even the basic Nikon ViewNX2 software included with the camera to select from the range of light within the big RAW image file. It’s like moving the histogram window to the left or right over all that wide range of RAW image data. You select a final resting place for the histogram window, capture the underlying RAW data, and your image is ready for use.

This is a serious oversimplification of the process, but I hope it is more understandable. In reality, the digital sensor records a wider range of light than you can use in one image. While you might be able to use about 5 stops of light range in a normal image, the digital sensor probably records about 7 stops of light range. Although you can’t get all of that range into the final image, it is there in the RAW file as a selectable range. I prefer to think of it as a built-in bracket, since it works the same way.
This bracketed light range within the image is present to a very limited degree in JPEG, but is the most pronounced in pure RAW images. That is why many choose to shoot in RAW mode instead of JPEG.

Your camera meter should be used to get the initial exposure only. Then you can look at the histogram to see if the image’s light range is contained within the limited range of the sensor. If it is clipped off to the right or the left, you may want to add or subtract light with your Exposure compensation button, or use your Manual mode. Expose for the light range with your histogram. Let your light meter get you close, then fine-tune with the histogram.

There are also other Monitor viewing modes that you can use along with the histogram graph, such as the Highlights (blink) mode for blown-out highlights (see the Playback Menu > Display mode and select Highlights). This mode will cause your image to blink from light to dark in the blown-out highlight areas. This is a rough representation of a highlight-value clipped histogram, and it is quite useful for quick shooting. Using your camera’s light meter, histogram, and the highlight burnout blinky mode together is a very powerful method to control your exposures.

If you master this method, you will have a very fine degree of control over where you place your image’s light ranges. This is sort of like using the famous Ansel Adams’s black and white Zone System, but it is represented visually on the Monitor of your camera.

The manipulation of the histogram levels in-computer is a detailed study in itself. It’s part of having a digital darkroom. Learn to use your computer to tweak your images, and you’ll be able to produce superior results most of the time. Even more importantly, learn to use your histogram to capture a nice image in the first place!

Your histogram is simply a graph that lets you see at a glance how well your image is contained by your camera. Too far left and the image is too dark; too far right and the image is too light. Learn to use the histogram well and your images are bound to improve!

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Nikon books here:

This particular article is an excerpt from my book Mastering the Nikon D300/D300s, published by NikoniansPress/Rocky Nook and distributed by O'Reilly Media. It is based on the Nikon D300s, but most of these settings apply to any newer Nikon DSLR. © 2011 Darrell Young, All Rights Reserved.

ISO Sensitivity Auto Control

The ISO Sensitivity Auto Control (ISO-AUTO), found under the Shooting Menu, is a powerful feature in many Nikon DSLR cameras. It's used to allow the camera to automatically control the ISO sensitivity and shutter speed, according to the light levels sensed by the camera. It's very helpful when you don't have time to deal with exposure issues—yet must get the pictures.

FIG 19C – Enabling the ISO Sensitivity Auto Control

Once you’ve set  ISO sensitivity auto control to On, you should immediately set two values, according to how you shoot:

  • Maximum sensitivity
  • Minimum shutter speed

Here’s some detail on these two settings:

Maximum Sensitivity

The Maximum sensitivity setting is a safeguard for you (see FIG 19D). It allows the camera to adjust its own ISO sensitivity from the minimum value of ISO 200 to the value set in Maximum sensitivity, according to light conditions.  The camera will try to maintain the lowest ISO sensitivity it can use to get the picture.  However, if need be it can rapidly rise to the Maximum sensitivity level.  This setting overrides the normal ISO sensitivity setting.

FIG 19D – Setting the ISO Sensitivity Auto Control’s Maximum Sensitivity

If you would prefer that the Maximum sensitivity not exceed a certain ISO value, simply select from the list shown in image 3 of FIG 19D. The Maximum sensitivity default is ISO 3200. That’s too high for my tastes since it will let the camera take the ISO sensitivity all the way up to ISO 3200 in a low-light situation.  Too much noise potential for me!  Maybe not for you?  In any case, I set my camera to ISO 400 for the Maximum sensitivity as shown in FIG 19C, image 3.

You’ll note that there are only five available settings 400, 800, 1600, 3200, and Hi 1. Whichever one of these settings you choose as a Maximum sensitivity will be the maximum ISO value the camera will use to get a good exposure when the light drops. 

Interestingly, the settings in Custom setting b1 do not control what incremental ISO numbers between these primary values can be used.  I carefully setup my D300s to test this, and found that it would often use an intermediate value like ISO 640, 1100, 1250, 2000, or 2200 as the light got darker and darker.  It did this whether I set Custom setting b1 to 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV step.  Just remember that you have a maximum range from ISO 400 to Hi 1 (ISO 6400) with whatever EV steps in between that the camera decides to use.

What happens when the camera reaches its Maximum sensitivity and there still isn’t enough light for a good exposure?  Let’s find out:

Minimum Shutter Speed

Since shutter speed helps control how sharp an image can be, due to camera shake and subject movement, you’ll need some control over the Minimum shutter speed allowed while the ISO sensitivity auto control is turned On (see FIG 19E).

FIG 19E – Setting the ISO Sensitivity Auto Control’s Minimum Shutter Speed

You can select a shutter speed from the list to set the minimum shutter speed the camera will allow when the light diminishes.  In P – Programmed auto (camera controls shutter and aperture) and A – Aperture priority (camera controls shutter and you control aperture) exposure modes, the camera will not go below the Minimum shutter speed unless the Maximum sensitivity setting still won’t give you a good exposure.

This is the answer to our question in the last section about what would happen when there is not enough light and the camera has maxed out the Maximum sensitivity level.  Even though you’ve selected a Minimum shutter speed, the camera will go below the minimum speed when the light is too low for a good exposure and the Maximum sensitivity ISO number has been reached.

  In other words, in P – Programmed auto or A – Aperture priority exposure modes, if you get into low light and try to take pictures, the camera will try to keep the ISO sensitivity as low as possible until the shutter speed drops to your selected Minimum shutter speed.  Once it hits the selected lowest shutter speed value—like the 1/30s shown in FIG 19E, image 3—the ISO sensitivity will begin to rise up to your selected Maximum sensitivity value, like the ISO 400 shown in FIG 19E, image 2. 

Once it hits the Maximum sensitivity value, if the camera still doesn’t have enough light for a good exposure, it won’t keep raising the ISO sensitivity since you’ve artificially limited it with the Maximum sensitivity setting.  Instead, the camera will now go below your selected Minimum shutter speed, by dropping below the 1/30s shown in FIG 19E, image 3.  Be careful, because if the light gets that low, your camera can go all the way down to a shutter speed of 30 seconds to get a good exposure.  The camera had better be on a tripod and have a static subject at shutter speeds that low.

Look at the Minimum shutter speed value as the lowest “safe” speed after which you’ll put your camera on a tripod.  Most people can handhold a camera down to about 1/60s if they are careful, and maybe 1/30s if they’re extra careful and brace themselves.  Below that, it’s blur city for your images.  It’s even worse with telephoto lenses.  Camera movement is greatly magnified with a long lens, and a Minimum shutter speed of 1/250s to 1/500s or more may be required (max is 1/4000s).

For fun, let’s listen to the camera talk to itself while you take pictures in low light with ISO sensitivity auto control enabled.  As we listen in on the D300(s) thinking, we need to know that the current Maximum sensitivity setting is ISO 400, and the Minimum shutter speed setting is 1/30s (as shown in FIG 19E):

Nikon D300(s) thinking: “Okay, Auto ISO is on!  The light is dropping and my current 1/60s shutter speed and 200 ISO sensitivity won’t let me make a good exposure. I’ll slow the shutter speed to the minimum of 1/30s, as my owner specified in my Minimum shutter speed setting.  More pictures are incoming, and the light is still dropping!  I can’t go any lower on the shutter speed for now, since my owner has instructed me to keep the Minimum shutter speed at 1/30s unless I can’t get a good picture.  I’ll have to start raising the ISO sensitivity. Here comes more pictures, and whew, it’s getting dark!  I’ve now raised the ISO sensitivity to my Maximum sensitivity level of ISO 400, which is as high as I am allowed to go.  I have no choice now but to go below the 1/30s Minimum shutter speed my owner has specified.  I hope I’m on a tripod!”

Special note: The other exposure modes, S – Shutter priority and M – Manual, allow you to control the camera in a way that overrides certain parts of the ISO sensitivity auto control.

In M - Manual mode the camera completely relinquishes all control of the shutter and aperture.  It can only adjust the ISO sensitivity by itself, so it can obey the Maximum sensitivity but the Minimum shutter speed is overridden and does not apply.

In S – Shutter priority mode the camera can control the aperture but the shutter speed is controlled only by the camera user.  So, the ISO sensitivity auto control can still control the Maximum sensitivity, but has lost control over the Minimum shutter speed.

Also, it may be a good idea to enable High ISO NR—as discussed a few pages back—when you enable the ISO sensitivity auto control. This is especially true if you leave the camera set to the default Maximum sensitivity value of 3200.  Otherwise, you may have excessive noise when the light drops.

When and why should I use ISO-AUTO?

How much automation do you need to produce consistently excellent images?  Let’s explore how and when automatic self-adjusting ISO might improve or degrade your images. What is this feature all about?  When and why should I use it?  Are there any compromises in image quality in that mode?

Normally you will set your camera to a particular ISO number, such as 200 or 400, and shoot your images.  As the light gets darker, or in the deep shade, you might increase the ISO sensitivity to allow handheld images to continue being made.

If you're in circumstances where you absolutely must get the shot, the ISO sensitivity auto control will work nicely.  Here are a few scenarios:

Scenario # 1:  Let’s say you are a photojournalist and you’re shooting flash pictures of the president as he disembarks from his airplane, walks into the terminal, and drives away in his limousine.  Under those circumstances, you will have little time to check your ISO settings or shutter speeds and will be shooting in widely varying light conditions.

Scenario # 2: You are a wedding photographer in a church that doesn’t allow the use of flash.  As you follow the bride and groom from the dark inner rooms of the church, out into the lobby, and finally up to the altar, your light conditions will be varying constantly.  You have no time to deal with the fluctuations in light by changing your ISO, since things are moving too quickly.
Scenario # 3:  You are at a party, and you want some great pictures.  You want to use flash, but the pop-up Speedlight may not be powerful enough to reach across the room at low ISO settings. You really don’t want to be bothered with camera configuration at this time, but still want some well exposed images.  Light will vary as you move around the room, talking and laughing, and snapping pictures.
These scenarios are excellent environments for the ISO sensitivity auto control.  The camera will use your normal settings, such as your normal ISO, shutter speed, and aperture until the light will not allow those settings to provide an accurate exposure.  Only then will the camera raise the ISO or lower the shutter speed to keep the camera functioning within the shutter/aperture parameters you have set.

Look at ISO AUTO as a “failsafe” for times when you must get the shot, but have little time to deal with camera settings, or when you don’t want to vary the shutter/aperture settings but still want to be assured of a well exposed image.

Unless you are a private detective shooting handheld telephoto images from your car, or are a photojournalist or sports photographer who must get the shot every time regardless of maximum quality, I personally would not recommend leaving your the ISO sensitivity auto control set to On.  Use it only when you really need to get the shot under any circumstances! 

Of course, if you are unsure of how to use the “correct” ISO for the light level, due to lack of experience, don’t be afraid to experiment with this mode.  At the very worst, all you might get are noisier than normal images.  However, it may not be a good idea to depend on this mode over the long term, because noisy images are not very nice. 

Are there any drawbacks to using ISO-AUTO? 

Maybe!  It really depends on how widely varying the light conditions will be when you are shooting.  Most of the time your camera will maintain normal ISO range settings in ISO-AUTO so your images will be their normal low-noise, sharp, masterpieces.  However, at times the light may be so low that the ISO may exceed the “normal” range of 200-800, and will start getting into the noisier ranges above 800 ISO.

Just be aware that the ISO sensitivity auto control can and will push your camera’s ISO sensitivity into a range that causes noisier images when light levels drop, if you’ve allowed it. Use it with this understanding and you’ll do fine. ISO 3200 is the maximum, unless you have set the maximum to a lower number.  Make sure you understand this, or you might get some noisy images.

The ISO sensitivity auto control is yet another feature in our powerful Nikon cameras.  Maybe not everyone needs this “failsafe” feature, but for those who do it must be there.  I will use it myself in circumstances where getting the shot is the most important thing, and where light levels may get too low for normal ISO image making.

Even if you think you might only use it from time-to-time, do learn how to use it for those times.  Experiment with the ISO sensitivity auto control.  It’s fun and can be useful!


I hope you enjoyed and benefited from this article.  You can find my current books in print here. Also, check out the official fansite on Facebook for readers of my books. It's called Mastering Your Nikon® Camera.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

One of the most asked questions by new users of Nikon DSLR cameras is "Which image format should I use?"  The three most common formats are JPEG, TIFF, or NEF (RAW). 

Let’s look at each of these image quality formats and see which you might want to use regularly. Following this section is a special supplement called Image Format Pros and Cons. This special section goes beyond just what formats are available and discusses why you might want to use a particular format over another. It discusses details you should know as a Nikon digital photographer.

NEF (RAW) Format 

This Nikon proprietary format stores raw image data directly to the camera’s memory card in files and can easily be recognized since the file name ends with NEF. This is not an image format used in day-to-day graphical work (like JPEG) and is not yet really even a usable image. Instead, it’s a base storage format used to store images for conversion to another format like JPEG, TIFF, PNG, or EPS.  NEF stores all available image data and can be easily manipulated later.

The included “in-the-box” Nikon CD contains the Nikon Software Suite® for both Macintosh® and Microsoft Windows® computers. It provides Nikon ViewNX®, which can be used to examine your NEF (RAW) files in detail, and convert them to other formats. Optional software like Nikon Capture NX2® is excellent for converting your NEF files, and is my personal favorite.  Or you could purchase Adobe Lightroom®, or Adobe Photoshop® to later change your RAW files into a format like TIFF or JPEG. There are also several other after-market RAW conversion applications available, such as Bibble® or Capture One®.

Before you go out shooting in the NEF RAW format, why not install your conversion software of choice, so that you’ll be able to view, adjust, and save the images to another format when you return?

You may not be able to view NEF files directly on your computer unless you have RAW conversion software installed. Some operating systems provide a downloadable “patch” or “codec” that lets you at least see NEF files as small thumbnails. Do a Google search on these specific words, and you’ll find Microsoft® patches for NEF file viewing: “Microsoft raw thumbnail viewer download” and “NEF codec download.” You’ll be able to download codecs that Microsoft operating systems can use to display small NEF file “thumbnails” when you view a folder containing them. At the time of this book’s writing I could find only codecs for 32-bit Windows XP® and Vista®. There should be one available for Microsoft Windows 7® very soon, or maybe it will natively work with the NEF format. 

There are also third-party companies, such as Ardfry Imaging, LLC that offer various 32 and 64-bit codecs for a small fee. I bought the Ardfry version for my computer. If you’re running 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7, you may want to check out the Ardfry Imaging people, or do a little research to see what else is currently available for viewing NEF files as thumbnails in Windows or the Mac.

On a side point, the CD included with your camera also has Nikon Transfer®, a program that helps you get your images off of the camera and onto your computer. I really like Nikon Transfer since it helps me transfer pictures to my computer and leave them on my memory card too. Then if I take more pictures on the same memory card, Nikon Transfer will only transfer the new ones when I reconnect to the computer. In a sense, Nikon Transfer acts like a one-way, memory card to computer synchronizer. As memory cards get bigger and bigger, I can see a time when I’ll keep several months of images on my camera’s card, and transfer the newest ones I take to the computer. I shot about 100 gigabytes of pictures last year. I just saw an ad for a SanDisk 64 gigabyte CF memory card—so it looks like that time is drawing near.

Nikon ViewNX RAW conversion software is supplied free with Nikon DSLRs, while Nikon Capture NX2 requires a separate purchase. Capture NX2 has become my favorite conversion software, along with Adobe Photoshop. I use ViewNX to look at my images because it has an excellent browser-type interface and then push them to Capture NX2 for final post-processing. If I need to remove an ugly spot in the sky from the edge of an otherwise spotless image or a blemish from a person’s face, I’ll use Photoshop’s Clone and Healing tools

JPEG Format

Nikon DSLRs have three JPEG modes. Each of the modes affects the final quality of the image. Let’s look at each mode in detail:

  • JPEG fine (Compression approximately 4:1)
  • JPEG normal (Compression approximately 8:1)
  • JPEG basic (Compression approximately 16:1)

Each of the JPEG modes provides a certain level of “lossy” image compression. Lossy means that JPEG throws away image data. The human eye compensates for small color changes quite well so the JPEG compression algorithm works great for viewing by humans. A useful thing about JPEG is that one can vary the file size of the image (via compression) without affecting quality too badly.

JPEG fine (or Fine Quality JPEG) uses a 4:1 compression ratio so there is a large difference in the file size, with it being as small as 25% of the original size. In this mode an image can be compressed down to as little as 4 or 5 megabytes, without significant loss of image quality. If you decide to shoot in JPEG, this mode will give you the best quality JPEG your camera can produce. Where a 10-12 megabyte compressed RAW setting only allows 500-600 images on an 8-gigabyte memory card the JPEG fine setting raises that to over 1000 files.

JPEG normal (or Normal Quality JPEG) uses an 8:1 compression ratio. This makes the image file about 2 or 3 megabytes. The image quality is still very acceptable in this mode, so if you are just shooting at a party for an average 4x6 printed image size, this mode will allow you to make lots of images. An 8-gigabyte card will hold over 2000 JPEG normal image files.

JPEG basic (or Basic Quality JPEG) uses a 16:1 compression ratio, so the image file size drops to about 1 or 2 megabytes. Remember, these are full size files. If one is shooting for the web, or just wants to document an area well, this mode has sufficient quality. My camera can store a whopping 4000 to 5000 JPEG basic files on my 8-gigabyte SD card. 

Combined NEF and JPEG shooting (two images at once)

Some shooters use a clever storage mode whereby the camera takes two images at the same time. NEF (RAW) + JPEG basic is what it’s called (or RAW+B). The camera makes a RAW (NEF) file and a JPEG file each time you press the shutter button. My camera’s storage drops to about 400 images on its 8 GB memory card, since it’s storing a NEF and a JPEG file at the same time for each picture taken. 

You can use the RAW file to store all the image data, and later to post-process it into a masterpiece, or you can just use the JPEG file immediately, and later work on the RAW file for high-quality purposes.

There’s no need to go into any detail about these modes other than what we’ve already discussed. The images from the NEF (RAW) + JPEG basic mode has the same features as their individual modes. In other words, the NEF (RAW) file works in a NEF + JPEG just like a NEF (RAW) file if you were using the standalone NEF (RAW) mode. The JPEG in a NEF + JPEG mode works just like a standalone JPEG shot without a NEF (RAW) file.

TIFF Format

The TIFF mode is probably the least used image quality mode on Nikon DSLRs, since it drops storage capacity on an 8-gigabyte card to just a little over 200 images. Plus, it slows the image writes to the memory card. Most of the lower cost Nikon DSLRs don't even support the TIFF format.

Personally, I would rather shoot in NEF (RAW) mode, since I can get almost double the number of images (at 12-bit color depth) on my CF card, and they are 12 or 14-bits instead of the TIFF mode's 8-bits.

However, since the TIFF mode creates images that do not have to be post-processed later (but easily can be if desired) some people will use TIFF mode for initial shooting. TIFF is not a lossy compressed mode, although there is a conversion from 12 or 14-bit to 8-bit initially. The image loses 4 or 6 bits during the conversion so there is color data loss, but it is not enough to make a big difference in the image. Use TIFF mode if you do not want the "lossy" compression of a JPEG and you'd rather not adjust the images later in your computer.

Now, let’s consider which of these formats might become your favorite and the benefits each might bring to your photography. 

Image Format Pros and Cons

There are many discussions in Internet camera forums on the subject of “Which is the best image format?” In order to decide which format you may frequently use, why not examine the pros and cons of each? This section is designed to do just that. We’ll examine the pros and cons of the three formats available in many Nikon DSLRs, NEF (RAW), JPEG, and TIFF.  If your camera only supports NEF (RAW) and JPEG, please ignore the TIFF information.

Nikon Electronic Format Features — NEF (RAW) 

I am a NEF (RAW) photographer about 98% of the time. I think of a RAW file like I thought of my slides and negatives a few years ago. It’s my original image file that must be saved and protected. Some concerns I can think of for the RAW format are that:

  1. You must post-process and convert every image you shoot into a TIFF or JPEG. (or other viewable format) 
  2. There is no industry standard RAW image format, and Nikon has the option of changing the internals of the NEF (RAW) format each time they come out with a new camera. They usually do!

Other than those drawbacks, I and many others, shoot NEF (RAW) for maximum image quality.

It is important that you understand something very different about NEF (RAW) files. They’re not really images — yet. Basically, a RAW file is composed of black-and-white sensor data and camera setting information markers. The RAW file is saved in a form that must be converted to another image type to be used in print or web.

When you take a picture in RAW the camera records the image data from the sensor, and stores markers for how the camera’s color, sharpening, contrast, saturation, etc. are set, but does not apply the camera setting information to the image. In your computer’s post-processing software, the image will appear on screen using the settings you initially set in your camera. However, they are only applied in a temporary manner for your computer viewing pleasure. 

If you don’t like the white balance you selected at the time you took the picture, simply apply a new white balance and the image will be just as if you had used the new white balance setting when you first took the picture. If you had low sharpening set in-camera and change it to higher sharpening in-computer, then the image will look just like it would have looked had you used higher in-camera sharpening when you took the image. You can change sharpening levels in the Picture control you have selected.

This is quite powerful! Virtually no camera settings are applied to a RAW file in a permanent way. That means you can change the image to completely different settings and the image will be just as if you had used the new settings when you first took the picture. This allows a lot of flexibility later. If you shot the image initially using the Standard Picture Control, and now want to use the Vivid Picture Control, all you have to do is change the image to the Vivid Picture Control before the final conversion, and it will be as if you used the Vivid Picture Control when you first took the picture. Complete flexibility!

NEF (RAW) is generally used by individuals concerned with maximum image quality and who have time to convert the image in the computer after taking it with the camera. A conversion to JPEG sets image markers permanently, while a conversion to TIFF sets the markers, but allows you to modify the image later. Unfortunately, TIFF format has very large file sizes.

Here are the pros and cons for NEF (RAW) format:

NEF (RAW) Positives

  • Allows the manipulation of image data to achieve the highest quality image available from the camera.
  • All original detail stays in the image for future processing needs.
  • No conversions, sharpening, sizing, or color rebalancing will be performed by the camera. Your images are untouched and pure!
  • Can convert to any of the other image formats by using your computer's much more powerful processor instead of the camera processor.
  • You have much more control over the final look of the image, since you, not the camera are making decisions as to the final appearance of the image.
  • 12-bit or 14-bit format for maximum image color data.
 NEF (RAW) Negatives
  • Not compatible with the publishing industry, except by conversion to another format.
  • Requires post-processing by special proprietary software as provided by the camera manufacturer or third-party software programmers.
  • Larger file sizes (so you must have large storage media).
  • No accepted industry standard RAW format. Each camera manufacturer has its own proprietary format. Adobe® has a RAW format called DNG (Digital Negative) that might become an industry standard. We'll see!
  • Industry standard for printing is 8-bit files, not 12-bit files.

JPEG Format Features 

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is used by individuals who want excellent image quality, but have little time or interest in later post-processing or converting images to another format. They want to use the image immediately when it comes out of the camera, with no major adjustments.

The JPEG format applies whatever camera settings you have chosen to the image when it is taken. It comes out of the camera ready to use, as long as you have exposed it properly and have all the other settings set in the best way for the image.

Since JPEG is a “lossy” format, one cannot modify and save it more than a time or two before ruining the image from compression losses. However, since there is no post-processing required later, this format allows much quicker usage of the image. A person shooting a large quantity of images, or who doesn’t have the time to convert RAW images, will usually use JPEG. That encompasses a lot of photographers. 

While a nature photographer might want to use RAW, since he has more time for processing images and wringing the last drop of quality out of them, an event or journalist photographer may not have the time or interest in processing images, so he’ll use JPEG. 

Here are the pros and cons of using JPEG mode:

JPEG Positives

  • Maximum number of images on camera card and later in computer hard drive storage.
  • Fastest writes from camera memory buffer to memory card storage.
  • Absolute compatibility with everything and everybody in imaging.
  • Uses the industry printing standard of 8-bits.
  • High-quality first use images.
  • No special software needed to use the image right out of the camera. (No post-processing)
  • Immediate use on websites with minimal processing.
  • Easy transfer across Internet, and as e-mail attachments.

JPEG Negatives

  • JPEG is a "lossy" format, which means that it permanently throws away image data from compression algorithm losses as you select higher levels of compression (fine, normal, basic).
  • You cannot use JPEG to manipulate an image more than once or twice before it degrades to an unusable state. Every time you modify and resave a JPEG image it loses more data.

TIFF Format Features 

Finally, let's consider the TIFF format. It is used by those who want to be able to work with their images over and over without throwing away data from compression, like JPEG does. 

You can shoot in TIFF if your camera supports it and you'll get excellent 8-bit images. When you shoot TIFF the camera does not compress the image. It does apply the camera settings to the image file immediately. Since the camera shoots natively in 12-bit or 14-bit, there is some initial data loss in using the TIFF format since some data is thrown away when converting down to 8-bit TIFF. The primary problem with TIFF files is that they are huge and will slow your camera down while it saves those large TIFF files.

Here are the pros and cons of the TIFF format:

TIFF Positives

  • Very high image quality.
  • Excellent compatibility with the publishing industry.
  • Is considered a "lossless" format, since the image normally uses no compression, and loses no more data than the initial conversion from 12 or 14-bits to 8-bits in the camera's software.
  • Can modify and resave the images an endless number of times without throwing away image data.
  • Does not require software post-processing during or after download from camera, so the image is immediately usable.

TIFF Negatives

  • Very large files in camera memory, so your ability to take a lot of images requires very large CF storage cards.
  • Must have larger hard drives on your computer to store these huge image files. 
  • In-camera image processing is slower, so you will be limited in the number of fast pictures you can take. 
  • Unless you have a high-speed Internet connection, don't even consider sending one of these monsters across the Internet. Even then, you may find you are constrained by your ISP’s file-size limitations. 

Final Image Format Ramblings

Which format do I prefer? Why, RAW, of course! But, it does require a bit of a commitment to shoot in this format. The camera is simply an image capturing device, and you are the image manipulator. You decide the final format, compression ratios, sizes, color balances, picture controls, etc. In RAW mode, you have the absolute best image your camera can produce. It is not modified by the camera, and is ready for your personal touch. No camera processing allowed!

If you get nothing else from this section, remember this... by letting your camera process the images in ANY way, it is modifying or throwing away image data. There is only a finite amount of data for each image that can be stored on your camera, and later on the computer. With JPEG mode, your camera is optimizing the image according to the assumptions recorded in its memory. Data is being thrown away permanently, in varying amounts.

If you want to keep virtually all the image data that was recorded in the image, you must store your originals in RAW format. Otherwise you’ll never again be able to access that original data to change how it looks. RAW format is the closest thing to a film negative or a transparency that your digital camera can make. 
That’s important if you’d like to use the image later for modification. If you’re a photographer that’s concerned with maximum quality you should probably shoot and store your images in RAW format. Later, when you have the urge to make another JPEG or TIFF masterpiece out of the original RAW image file, you will have ALL of your original data intact for the highest quality.

If you’re concerned that the RAW format may change too much—over time—to be readable by future generations, then you might want to convert your images into TIFF, DNG, or JPEG files. TIFF is best if you want to modify them later. I often save a TIFF version of my best files just in case RAW changes too much in the future. I’m not overly concerned, though, since I can still open my 2002 NEF (RAW) files from my old Nikon D100 in Nikon Capture NX2. Why not do a little more research on this subject and decide which you like best.

(This article is a short excerpt from Mastering the Nikon D300.)

Keep on capturing time...
Digital Darrell

Interestingly, a RAW file is not yet an image. It is only "raw" black-and-white information from the camera's sensor, separate color information, and markers for how the camera settings were configured when you took the picture.

When you display a RAW image on your computer in a program like Nikon Capture or View NX2, you are seeing the image displayed with the settings you used at the time you took the picture. However, since a RAW file is not yet an image, none of the settings are permanently applied until you save it as a JPEG or another format. 

Proof of this is how easily you can modify the RAW file with a change of settings in the computer software you are using. If you shot it with Cloudy White Balance, you can change it to Shady White Balance and it will be exactly the same as if you shot it originally in Shady instead of Cloudy. If you used the Neutral Picture Control and decide you'd rather use the Vivid Picture Control, change it in the Nikon software and it will be as if you had shot with Vivid in the first place—after you save the image as a different format. You can even save the RAW file with your new settings, but they are still not applied permanently to the image, they are just saved as new markers for later display in-computer.

Since a RAW file does not become an image until it is saved as another format, you can play with it, modify it, or change it as much as you like, and the final result will be as if you used the new settings when you first took the picture.

One exception to this rule is Long Exposure Noise Reduction. The reason is that, using this method, two exposures are combined in a black frame subtraction, and I've not found a way to remove the second exposures results. 

This goes to good exposure methods, one of which is Long Exposure Noise Reduction. It only applies to exposures over 8 seconds long, and you must have Long exp. NR turned on, so most of us will not use it often. I leave it turned on all the time but I rarely take exposures longer than 8 seconds.

For those that wonder about Long Exposure Noise Reduction (Shooting Menu > Long exp. NR), it does not blur the image, after the fact, like normal noise reduction. Instead, it is concerned with pixels that get warm and bright during a long exposure. It takes the first exposure as normal, then it closes the shutter and takes a second exposure of the exact same length (except that the new D7000 claims it can make the entire combined exposure at between 1.5 and 2 times a single exposure's length). After both exposures are complete the camera examines the first and second images (in a sense) and combines them. How? Most of the second exposure is totally black, of course, since the shutter is closed. The camera sees where there are any loud, bright pixels in the second exposure and subtracts them from the first exposure.

So, the first exposure really only gets reconfigured by the second exposures results. This does not damage the image nearly as much as regular noise reduction. However, this method of noise correction is applied to the RAW image in a permanent way. That's because it is part of the exposure itself, and becomes part of the RAW data being passed to the camera card. There is no way, that I know of, to remove the results.

RAW shooters have learned that RAW (NEF) files are completely flexible and changeable after the fact. Do not worry about what settings you have used on a RAW file, you can change it later. The important thing with RAW files is that you get a correct exposure. That's one thing that cannot be changed after the fact without damaging the appearance of the image. Learn to use your histogram to validate the exposure. Make sure you have correct settings for depth of field (aperture) and motion control (shutter speed), then shoot with abandon as to settings. You can change it all later and it will be as if you used the new settings when you took the picture originally.

No RAW file exists as an image until you save it as a JPEG, TIFF, or other format. Things like noise reduction, white balance, Picture Controls, sharpening, and contrast are applied permanently only at the time the RAW file is saved as something besides a RAW file. RAW files stay raw; that's why RAW (NEF) makes such good storage format and so many experienced photographers shoot with it.

Keep on capturing time... 
Darrell Young
Do you entertain yourself by reading lens reviews and spend hours on eBay looking for the ultimate lens?  Do you have the desire to own every lens ever made?  Does your camera bag weigh more than you do?  Then you may be a good candidate to read this article.

Collecting lenses can be like collecting used Boeing 747 airplanes. They're just plain expensive!  Yet life is best when our camera bags are heavy with glass.  We may not need them today, but they’re there when we do.

Since most of us have lens buying habits approaching national debt levels—it’s a good idea to save money—as long as quality isn’t compromised. Nikkors® have been my choice for most of my photographic life—and will continue to be. Recently, though, several aftermarket lens manufacturers have released very desirable lenses that cost significantly less.  Less is better when it comes to cost!
FIG 1A - Tamron® SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 Lens on a Nikon D300
One of my favorites is the Tamron® SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II VC LD Aspherical (IF). Although the name is longer than the lens itself, it performs—in certain ways—even better than some of my beloved Nikkors.
The Tamron “SP” designation marks their best lenses with resulting excellence in glass and build quality.

It only costs about $650 USD, which is very reasonable for this level of lens quality and capability. A comparable Nikon-brand lens, such as the AF-S Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8 can cost over twice as much. Of course, the Nikkor lens has a stronger metal build and you pay for that.  The Tamron lens barrel is made of “high-impact” polycarbonate so it can be lighter yet still maintain excellent strength for daily use.

Let me tell you about my experiences with this lens.

Not long after the newest version of the lens was released, I was given an opportunity by Nikonians.org and Tamron to use one for a few weeks.  For most of December 2009, this lens was on my Nikon D300s.  I used it as the “portrait” lens while shooting a wedding’s formal groups shots and as a “save my buns” lens when shooting the reception lit by white Christmas tree lights.  Do you know how hard it is for a camera to focus on people dancing by candlelight.  The Tamron’s wide F2.8 constant aperture was a big help. 

Tamron Vibration Compensation (VC) 

The Tamron vibration compensation—called VC—is simply amazing.  Unlike Nikkor’s two-axis vibration reduction (VR), the Tamron has three-axis vibration compensation.  How does VC work?  Well, imagine the difference between a big plus sign “+” and a big “x” letter.  The Nikkor VR system stops vibration in an up/down and left/right direction, like the plus sign.  Tamron VC adds vibration compensation on diagonal movements, like an X.

In other words, not only does it match the Nikkor’s up/down and left/right capability but it also adds diagonal compensation.  Imagine placing an x on top of a + sign, and you’ll see how the VC system can handle camera movements in more directions, up/down, left/right, and diagonally. For this reason, the Tamron does not have a Normal/Active switch, like the newer Nikkor VR lenses.  It handles the other angles automatically and doesn’t need one.

FIG 1B - Tamron® SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 VC Lens

Here’s some rather interesting vibration compensation information provided by Tamron's, technical representative Rob Moody:

Other two-coil systems on the market have to compensate for diagonal movement by triangulating or computing through the body. This is what produces the floating or drifting effect you experience when the stabilization is engaged in other manufacturers lenses. The new three-coil system eliminates this process by using an addition or third coil to compensate for diagonal movement.”

When I’ve depended on VR while using my Nikkors—such as when a tripod is not feasible—I’ve always allowed a second to let the VR “take hold” before taking the picture.  Otherwise background objects can have a weird repeating blur when the VR is not fully locked and the picture is taken.  If you’ve used VR for any length of time, you may know what I mean.  Things on the edges of the image can look really weird, like a failed Photoshop clone effect, even while the subject is sharp.  I attribute this to the VR system not fully acquiring “lockdown,” in a sense, before the shutter is released.

Using the Tamron’s VC system, I didn’t notice this effect at all.  It seemed that the VC was faster at locking down the image.  This is only my opinion, you may find differently.  However, after using Nikkor VR from its earliest versions to the best VR II available today, I’ve grown accustomed to how it works.  The Tamron seems to acquire the subject faster and locks down tighter.

In my opinion, this VC feature alone makes the lens worth the cost.  I handheld this lens in conditions that would make a less competent lens shudder—literally. 

Formal Portrait Work 

I used the Tamron during the formal portrait session in a wedding where I was limited to only two flash units, anSB-800 and a SB-900, with an SU-800 controller and Nikon CLS.  By necessity everything was mostly direct flash.  In FIG 2A, I used one SB-900 with its stock diffuser dome pointing somewhat toward the ceiling, on a Nikon D300s, and was working to control contrast as best I could.
FIG 2A - Bride in front of pastel painting

Within the limitations of this direct-flash portrait, I think the D300s/SB-900/Tamron combination performed quite well.  No forehead or cheek hotspots, only minor shadows, and all detail in whites maintained. The Tamron provided accurate tonal and distance information to my camera and flash, so that exposing the image was effortless.

In FIG 2B, an SB-900 was pointed directly at the group, while a SB-800 was bounced off the white ceiling.  MyD300s and SU-800 commander unit, along with the Tamron lens were controlling the exposure.  The combo worked well. 

I’m always afraid to use a new piece of equipment during a wedding, so I was quite wary. However, since this was a digital wedding, I could see any serious problems on the camera’s monitor. I went ahead and used the lens.  From the results seen in FIG 2A and 2B, you can tell that I don’t regret it.
FIG 2B - Bride and bridesmaids
I shot over 100 formal group portraits, with up to 21 people in them, during this wedding. Not a single image was incorrectly focused or badly exposed.  Great lens performance. 

Low Light Performance

During the reception of the wedding, all main lights were turned off, and everyone was dancing to strung-up white Christmas tree lights.  The Tamron was able to acquire focus even under that very low light setting, with the assistance of the SB-900’s infrared beam, of course.  I tried shooting these dark images with my AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm, but could not seem to get good autofocus.  I quickly switched to the Tamron, with its constant F/2.8 aperture and that did the trick.  However, the proof in the pudding is whether or not the full combination of camera, flash, and lens can provide accurate exposure under very difficult conditions.
FIG 2C - Bride and Groom
FIG 3 shows an example of the type of image I was able to capture shooting basically in the dark.  In the background of the image you can see the tiny lights that were used to provide a romantic atmosphere for the dancing.  The bride and groom were dancing and spinning, while I was doing my best to capture them for posterity.  The lens, once again, gave the camera and flash correct information for balanced exposure, with no blowout of whites or skin tones.  The lens/camera/flash let the darks suffer, and kept the bride and groom exposed well.  That’s awfully hard to do.

Of course, in an image with this level of darkness, you expect to see some shadows go fully black, but the important bits were exposed correctly, and the image’s histogram just touched the highlight side of the histogram window.  Under these conditions, that’s quite admirable performance from the combination.  The Tamron can be trusted to deliver.

Now, let’s look at some technical information for this fine lens.

Technical Information  (for Model B005)

The Tamron® SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II VC LD Aspherical (IF) lens is designed for use on a Nikon having a DX imaging sensor.  It does not provide a large enough image circle to cover the size of an FX sensor, so it won’t work on a D700 or D3s/x.  It’ll work fine on all DX models from the Nikon D40 to D300s.  Here is an acronym list explaining what all the symbols applying to this lens mean:

Acronyms for Tamron® SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II VC LD Aspherical (IF) (Model B005)
  • SP = Super Performance.  Tamron’s best lenses.
  • AF = Autofocus
  • XR = Extra Refractive Index.  Allows smaller lens diameter due to stronger refraction in front elements.
  • Di-II = Digitally Integrated.  Designed for DX sensors (APS-C or 24x16mm).
  • VC = Vibration Compensation.  Reduces handheld vibrations in three planes.
  • LD = Low Dispersion.  Lens contains one or more elements that achieve apochromatic performance.
  • IF = Internal Focusing.  The length of the lens does not change during focus.
  • BIM = Built-in Motor.  Will work on smaller Nikons with no in-body lens AF motor.
As mentioned in the acronym list, the newest version of this lens (model B005) has a built-in autofocus motor (BIM), so it will work on the smaller Nikon bodies like the D40, D60, D3000, or D5000.

Lens Sharpness

I read a review at PopPhoto.com about this lens, and they were rating it as having comparable sharpness from F/2.8 to F/11.  I had a hard time believing this until I shot the images in FIG 4.  I cut these sample segments out from an area between the middle and edge of the images.
FIG 4 - Testing for lens sharpness
 I can honestly state that the lens performs nearly as well wide open as at any aperture down to F/11.  The reason I say nearly, is that I note some mild edge softness and slight light falloff in the corners at F/2.8.  It’s gone by F/4.  That’s to be expected in most all lenses.

The absolute best sharpness is found at F/8 to F/11, but is entirely usable across all apertures.  If you look closely at FIG 4, you’ll see a lessening in sharpness at F/16 as diffraction starts to take its toll.  However, I would feel comfortable using this lens at any aperture.  This is a sharp one, for sure! 

Lens Distortion

To test for distortion I shot against a concrete brick wall at various apertures.  I tried to walk closer or farther away to keep the blocks somewhat close to the same size, so that they’re easier to compare.

FIG 5 - Testing for lens distortion

I note some barrel distortion at 17mm, but by 24mm it seems to be gone.  Since the focal range on this lens is so short, it is easier to control for distortion.  I really can’t see any distortion between 24mm and 50mm. 

Lens Flare

What’s the worst case scenario for a lens?  To be pointed directly into the sun.  I gave this lens the acid test by standing in the superstore parking lot and including the sun in the image (see FIG 6).

FIG 6 - Testing for lens flare and contrast

As expected you can see the teardrop shaped rainbow effect chromatic flare in the lower right corner.  In fact, if you look closely the greenish flare extends all the way from the left bottom corner to the sun.  However, I’ve seen few lenses that don’t give you this effect, and it’s even added in movies sometimes since we are all so used to seeing it. The nice thing about this lens is that it maintained high contrast in the rest of the image. There is no milky effect that lowers the contrast of the entire image. The only areas affected by the sun are the actual flare reflections. The rest of the image is still high contrast and sharp.

I would consider this good reflection control and shows that the lens has good quality coatings on its elements.  Otherwise, an image with the sun in it would be very low contrast as the light bounces around between the elements. 

Light Falloff

I was impressed with this lens’ minimal light falloff.  I use a Nikkor 16-85mm and battle relatively worse light falloff.  There is some light falloff at maximum aperture and shortest focal length (see FIG 7).

FIG 7 - Testing for light fallof

F/2.8 shows falloff it in the corners, but it is mostly gone by F/4. The only time I could really detect light falloff was at 17mm and F/2.8 and F/4. At any other focal length besides 17mm I could not detect any significant light falloff. There was just a tiny bit at 24mm and F/2.8. What you see in FIG 7 is “worst case scenario” in my opinion. This lens does not have serious light falloff problems, and what it does have is easily corrected in software. 

Chromatic Aberration

To test for Chromatic Aberration (CA) with the Nikon D300s is a little more difficult than with some cameras.  TheD300s automatically removes CA when creating a JPEG.  So, I shot this backlit tree on the left in FIG 8 in RAW instead, and processed it through Nikon Capture NX2 with “Lateral Chromatic Aberration” correction turned off.

FIG 8 - Testing for lens chromatic aberration (CA)

The results were what I would call excellent. In FIG 8 you can see the red opaque area of the big image represented at 100% on the right. Even at 500% I could not detect significant amounts of CA. This is a worst case scenario, too.  Backlit tree limbs will show CA when it is present, in my experience.  Can you see any?  I can’t! 

Sample Images from Tamron

Now let’s look at three larger sample images.  One of them I took in Knoxville Tennessee at the colorful front of a bankrupt Circuit City store.  The other two were provided by Tamron, since I did not have the lens during a colorful season (December) and couldn’t get any beauty-in-nature shots.  The two nature shots were taken by Tamron technical representative Rob Moody personally.  He was using his Nikon D700 in DX mode (5.5mp).

FIG 9 – Architectural Example – Nikon D300s, Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 VC, 1/250s at F/9, ISO 100 - © Darrell Young
FIG 10 – Loch Raven – Nikon D700 (DX Mode), Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 VC, 1/800s at F/5.6, ISO 500 - © Rob Moody
FIG 11 – Reflection – Nikon D700 (DX Mode), Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 VC, 1/80s at F/6.3, ISO 200 - © Rob Moody

Some Basic Lens Facts
  • The lens uses a normal non-ultrasonic autofocus motor, but the focus is fast and quiet.  I had no AF seeking issues, even in an extremely dark environment.
  • The end of the lens does not rotate during autofocus, so you can use your polarizer without difficulty.
  • The maximum aperture is a constant F/2.8 all through the zoom range.
  • It has 14 groups with a total of 19 elements.
  • It’s angle of view is 78°45’ to 31°11’ (APS-C equivalent)
  • It has 7 aperture blades for a nearly circular opening
  • The minimum aperture is F/32
  • The minimum focusing distant is 11.4 inches (0.29m)
  • The maximum macro magnification is 1:4.8
  • Its filter diameter is 72mm
  • The lens weighs 20.15 ounces (570g)
  • It is 3.13 inches (76.5mm) in diameter and 3.7 inches (94mm) long.
  • It comes with a 72mm flower-shaped lens hood
  • It has a 6-year limited warranty in the USA
  • Earlier versions of this lens have won EISA’s Best Product Award, American Photo’s Editor’s Choice Award, and Professional Photographer’s HOT ONE Winner award.
A Look at this Lens
Here are a few images of the lens from different angles.  This is one good looking lens; don’t you agree?  It takes pictures even better than it looks!
FIG 12 – Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 VC various views

My Conclusions

I would feel confident using this lens in almost any situation.  It feels strong and robust, with a design and warranty showing that it’s made for many years of usage.  While not up to the heavy standard of a metal Nikkor lens, it doesn’t cost nearly as much either.  For a photographer that needs a good solid high-performance lens, but has to maintain a budget, this lens performs extremely well.

I love the constant F/2.8 maximum aperture.  This lets me use the lens to isolate my subjects with shallow depth of field when wide open, and have plenty of depth when stopped down.  It’s surprisingly sharp wide open.  The specs I’ve read on other more technical reviews show very similar sharpness results from F/2.8 to F/11, and some minor sharpness loss due to defraction between F/16 and F/32.  Quite an impressive lens!  It’s highly corrected and acceptable wide open, which is unusual in a lens of this price range.

I read a review of an earlier version of this lens on Popular Photography’s website, and they claimed that it optically outperforms the Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8 lens.  I can tell you that the images I shot with it are very sharp and have excellent color contrast.  It is a great normal lens for general use on a camera like the Nikon D5000, D90, or D300s.

With the Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 VC, other photographers will wonder how you took such sharp images.  Pro quality images at a reasonable lens price! 

Keep on capturing time …
Darrell Young

Color spaces are an interesting and important part of digital photography. They help your images fit into a much broader range of imaging devices. Software, printers, monitors, and other devices recognize which Color space is attached to your image and use it, along with other color profiles, to help balance the image to the correct output colors for the device in use.

The two Color spaces available on Nikon cameras have different gamuts, or ranges of color. They are called sRGB and Adobe RGB. You’ll find the color space choices on the Shooting Menu, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Choosing a Color space from the Shooting Menu

Adobe RGB uses colors from a broader selection of the total color range, so it has a wider gamut. If you are taking images that might be printed, Adobe RGB is often the best color space to use.

After a JPEG file is created, either in a camera or on a computer, both Adobe RGB and sRGB’s color gamut are compressed into the same number of color levels. A JPEG has only 256 levels for each of its red, green, and blue (RGB) channels. However, since the Adobe RGB color space takes its colors from a wider spectrum, you will have a better representation of reality when there are lots of colors in your image.

If you shoot in RAW format a lot, you may want to consider using Adobe RGB to store the maximum number of colors in your image files for later use. Remember that a NEF (RAW) image file can contain 4,096 levels of color per RGB channel in 12-bit mode and 16,385 levels in 14-bit mode—instead of the limited 256 levels in an 8-bit JPEG. Using Adobe RGB makes a lot of sense in NEF (RAW) mode because of its capacity to contain more colors as a base storage medium.

There are some drawbacks to using Adobe RGB, though. The sRGB color space is widely used in printing and display devices. Many local labs print with sRGB because so many point-and-shoot digital cameras use that format. If you try to print directly to some inkjet printers using the Adobe RGB color space, the colors may not be as brilliant as with sRGB. If you aren’t going to modify your images in post-processing and plan to print them directly from your camera, you may want to use sRGB. If you shoot only JPEGs for computer display or Internet usage, it might be better to stay with sRGB for everyday shooting.

If you are a RAW shooter and regularly post-process your images, you should consider using Adobe RGB. You will have a wider gamut of colors to work with and can make your images the best they can be. Later, you can convert your carefully crafted images to sRGB print with a good color profile and get great results from inkjet printers  and other printing devices. Here’s a rough way to look at it:

  • Many JPEG shooters use sRGB.
  • Many RAW shooters use Adobe RGB.

This is not a hard and fast rule, but many people use these settings according to their style of shooting.

Which Color Space Is Best—Technically?

There is a large color space used by the graphics industry called CIE LAB. This color space is designed to approximate human vision. Adobe RGB covers about 50 percent of the CIE LAB color space, and sRGB covers only 35 percent. In other words, Adobe RGB has a wider gamut. That means Adobe RGB gives your images access to significantly higher levels of color, especially cyans (bluish tones) and greens. Another important consideration if you’ll send your work to companies that use offset printing—such as book and magazine publishers—is that Adobe RGB maps very well to the four-color cyan, magenta, yellow, black (CMYK) printing process. If you are shooting commercial work, you may want to seriously consider Adobe RGB. Stock photo shooters are nearly always required to shoot in Adobe RGB.

My Recommendation

I use Adobe RGB most of the time since I shoot a lot of nature pictures with a wide range of color. I want the most accurate color my camera can give me. Adobe RGB has a wider range of colors, so it can be more accurate when my subject has a wide range of colors. However, if you are shooting JPEG snapshots, there’s no need to worry about this. Leave the camera set to sRGB and have fun.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

On July 12, 2011 Nikon released a brand new macro lens for DX (only) users. It is an affordable lens, with a suggested retail price of US$279.00. Of course, street prices will often be lower than suggested retail.

 Nikon's AF-S Micro Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G Lens

The AF-S Micro Nikkor 40mm is a small-sized lens with a nice fast aperture and a slightly wide angle view on DX cameras like the Nikon D7000, D300S, D90, D5100, D5000, D3100, and D3000. In fact, since it is an AF-S lens (silent wave motor) with built-in autofocus it will work with all the smaller Nikon cameras like the D3100 and D5100, which have no autofocus motor and depend on the lens to autofocus.
It is able to do 1:1 reproduction without any attachments, which means that you can take high quality stills and close up movies at life-size ratios. If you would like to shoot extreme close ups of things like flowers and collectibles like coins and stamps, this lens is perfect. It has continuous auto or manual focus from 6.4 inches to infinity. At its closest setting it is shooting at a 1X or 1:1 (life-size) ratio. It can also be used for copying old photographs because of its flat-field design (low distortion).
Nikon even recommends the lens for portraits and landscapes. With the large available aperture you have the ability to blur the background for those isolated-subject  shots that are so appealing to us all. The lens has a “rounded” seven-bladed aperture, so it should produce natural-looking bokeh (blurred highlights). In fact, you could even carry the lens as a normal everyday lens for that extreme sharpness and beautiful depth of field only available from the best prime (single focal length) lenses. Since it is a normal lens, it sees approximately what the human eye considers normally-sized subjects on a DX camera.
Here are some of its detailed features:
  • CRC, or Close Range Focusing – The lens uses a floating element design, allowing each lens group to move independently, achieving superior performance when shooting at macro (up close) distances.

  • SWM, or Silent Wave Motor – The lens uses inaudible ultrasonic vibrations to autofocus the lens—providing very smooth and quiet, yet precise, autofocus.

  • SIC, or Super Integrated Coating – The coating on the lens reduces flare and ghosting, helps keeps color consistent, and enhances light transmission.

  • M/A, or Manual/Auto switch – With a macro lens it is very important to have manual focusing ability. Often when focusing at micro distances the depth of field will be so shallow that the focus can only cover a few millimeters of the subject. In extreme close up shooting you may want to use manual focus. All you have to do is flip the M/A switch to M and the lens is ready for your manual focusing. Flip it back to A and autofocus is re-enabled.

Here are the technical specs on the lens:
  • Mount Type :   Nikon F-Bayonet
  • Focal Length : 40mm
  • Maximum Aperture:  f/2.8 
  • Minimum Aperture: f/22 
  • Format: DX 
  • Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 38°50'
  • Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 1.0x 
  • Lens Elements : 9 
  • Lens Groups: 7 
  • Compatible Format(s) : DX 
  • Diaphragm Blades: 7 
  • Distance Information: Yes 
  • Super Integrated Coating: Yes 
  • Autofocus: Yes 
  • AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes 
  • Minimum Focus Distance: .53ft.(0.163m) 
  • Focus Modes: Auto, Manual, and Manual/Auto 
  • G-type: Yes 
  • Filter Size: 52mm 
  • Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on 
  • Dimensions: (Approx.)2.7x2.5 in. (Diameter x Length), 68.5x64.5mm (Diameter x Length) 
  • Weight: (Approx.)9.9 oz. (280g) 
  • Supplied Accessories: LC-52 52mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, HB-61 Bayonet Hood, CL-0915 Flexible Lens Pouch

This lens seems to be the answer for those among us who like a small, very portable macro lens. Since it can be used as a normal lens, constantly on the camera instead of a zoom lens, it is certainly good for students of photography that want to make great portraits, landscapes, and close up images with one low-cost, yet high-quality lens.
If you are on a budget, but want superior macro and normal photography, get yourself an AF-S Micro Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G lens.
Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young