Saturday, March 27, 2010

Infrared Games - First take with a new filter

Well, I recieved my infrared filter and decided to see how it worked.  It worked better than I expected.  Though exposure times were somewhat longer through the filter, they were not too long.  I could see hand holding the camera for these exposures in the future (though in this case, I used one of those little flexible tripods).  I figured I would post a few pictures to show about what I am seeing.  Note, very little work has been done to optimize these (standard camera settings in most cases, I did not really try to lower the ISO for noise etc).  I will post more pictures in a more controlled environment using a few more cameras (and a better subject than this one). 

As it was easy, I used my Canon Powershot SD1100IS and Autumn's Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3.  Note I am not listing the exposure parameters here (that will be for the more thorough test).  Note, none of these cameras are designed to do infrared photography, so the results might be less than optimal, but buying a camera designed for this is outside the scope (and price).  Most cameras try to limit infrared energy from hitting the sensor (to protect the normal image) making this a little tricky. 

The picture above is from the Powershot.  Notice the hazy section in the middle.  I have come to find (from a few online resources) that this is a comon problem using Canon for infrared.  Note - since Infrared is outside normal visible light, this is not affecting the normal image quality.  However it is something to note for infrared use.  You will see below that it is not as big of a deal as it is here. 

The picture above if from the Lumix.  This looks much lighter, and if there is a haze in the middle, it is not nearly as pronounced (it looks it here, but not when editing them).  Note, I am not sure if the lightness is a result of the exposure settings or something else (but will find out when I run a more thorough test). 

After looking at outputs from multilple sources online, the color cast does seem to change from camera to camera.  Technically there should be no color cast (as there is no color in the infrared spectrum), but since the filter does let a very small amount of visible light through (using a Hoya R72) that would tend to fool the camera to red.  Obviously, this is not the final output.  To remove the color cast, one would change this to a black and white image.  The reason to record in color, is to allow the best flexibility in making this change (using the color sliders in photoshop to change the contrast and darkness of the final image).  You will see what I mean in the next image.

Here is the final from the Powershot.  Notice the haze in the middle appears to be gone.  In reality, the haze ends up being a bit of a blueish region.  So when converting to Black and white, I get the image to the contrast I want using the red and magenta sliders, and then match the middle with the blue slider (and when done, a nice black and white infrared image).

Here is the Lumix image.  It is again a bit brighter (not sure if it is due to infrared sensitivity or just the exposure, this will be investigated in the future).  You can see the infrared affect really well here (the green trees come out white). 

So this is the first cut at a few pictures.  I want to test out a few other cameras, and do them in a better test environment (I want to go down to the lake, get some water in the picture, and some sky and have trees with leaves on them - this best shows the overall affect and will be the best for comparison).  As I may have a few week wait on the leaves, I may play some other games in the mean time. 

I figure while I work this out, I will post a little primer on infrared photography next.  Though this can be found on many other websites, I will try and break it down into some simple discussion (might have to borrow a few others pictures while I do this.  I will go over my setup (which is a nice cheap first cut - if it works well, might try something a little better).

Let me know what you think. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Upgrade the DSLR or the Pocket Camera

I am approaching that time again when upgrading of hardware becomes a question. I always look to find the weak part of my workflow, and upgrade it, so that I can put out the best pictures possible. I am set for computer and software. My printer is a good one (though with current resolutions, might consider a bigger one in the future if I step up pixel count on the cameras - currently 13X19, might want to go up 2 print sizes in the future).

That leaves the cameras, and I think that outside of me, they are currently my limiting factor. I use 2 cameras. I have a canon powershot SD1100 IS and a canon Digital Rebel XTi. The powershot carries around nicely, and I normally have it with me (as well as used it for vacations like Ocean City and Disney). The Rebel is used for tougher pictures. I use it for my pictures of Quinn playing sports (long lens, no delay etc) and for some portraits (the shorter focus distance blurs the background nicely (bocah)). Also have more filters etc do get some more interesting outputs.

For upgrading the powershot, I would go to the SX210IS (coming out any day now). The biggest reason it upgrade the powershot is for some more zoom. The old one had a 3X zoom, the new one (which is one of the advanced cameras, but still fairly small) has a 14X zoom. I sort of got a nice picture of Quinn getting his pinewood derby car setup on the track that would have been improved greatly with a little more zoom. The other major advances are in pixel count (14 vs 8) and sensor (Digic 4 vs Digic 3). 8 is not a bad pixel count, but 14 will blow up much better (and allow some sizable cropping though the zoom should make that less required). However the Digic 4 will get me better darker performance (seems that is always an issue). Though they both have the same ISO settings, the Digic 4 has an ISO boost which should get better performance in low light. Finally there is the intangible. The SX210 has a smarter auto system than the SD1100. This might really help me. It also has a complete manual mode (which the SD1100 does not). As I like to think in manual terms, I do not suspect I will get caught up as much in this (for example, to get reasonable group pictures in strange lighting on the SD1100, I have to use my own settings, however since there is no manual mode, I have to trick the camera – recently during a group shot at church, the trick was on me as I missed one – should not have this problem with the new camera).

For upgrading the rebel, I would jump out of the rebel class, and move up to the 7D. This is still not a full frame sensor, but I am not ready for that, as I still have some nice lenss (especially the ultra wide) that only work on the smaller sensor. Again there are multiple reasons to upgrade the rebel. The primary ones would include increase in pixel count (from 10 to 18) and faster frames per sec (from about 3 to 8 – really make sure you get the right moment for those sports shots). This includes the same sensor upgrade as above (Digic 3 to a Digic 4), so those performance enhancements would be the same for this camera (biggest for me is the low light sensitivity). There is also an improved auto focus and metering system on the 7D which should make those respond quicker (faster auto-focus will be good, the metering system really is not as important to me in a digital (I can take some test shots before I start shooting to setup the exposure).

Both cameras will give me full HD video (though I do not do a lot with video). The current powershot does do some video, but the rebel does none.

So here is the problem. As money is an issue (it always is), upgrading both at the same time is not fiscally sound practice (or possible). In the end, either upgrade will help out some with my pictures overall. If I upgrade the Rebel, I will improve my “special” pictures. Basically, out of the 4 cameras I listed (the ones I own and the ones I am considering) the 7D will get me the best pictures (multiple lens options, highest pixel count (for enlargements), ability to really control the flash (multiple flashes etc). However, upgrading the powershot, will upgrade more of my pictures (about 90% of my pictures are taken with the powershot (might even be a little higher)). I find that I do not like to take the Rebel out all the time (so for bowling or just going out, I have the powershot). I also do not like to carry the Rebel on vacation (it is a pain in parks like Disney and even on the beach – were the littler camera can be protected and carried much easier).

Note, if I do upgrade the powershot first, it will nag at me to eventually upgrade the Rebel. Something would just bother me about having the smaller/cheaper camera have the higher pixel count (and other improvements) over my better/more flexible camera. However, that could be further down the road (and in the mean time the 90% use the powershot sees would be improved).

Adding to the confusion is the fact that I want to try some infrared photography (both outdoors scenes and some portraits). The best way to do this is to upgrade the Rebel, then spend the ~$300 to have the current one converted to Infrared. This would give very good pictures (however, the cost continues to spiral up). I have tested the current powershot, and it seems it would give reasonable results with just a filter (exposure times would be a little longer, but it should work). I suspect the SX210 would work similarly (I do not think that Canon upgraded the IR filter in the camera, but I could be wrong). For very little money, I can setup the powershot to do IR photography (and see what I think of it).

In addition to this, Denise got me a telescope last year. I do not get much chance to use it (I am in the woods with limited sky available). However, I did take some nice pictures of the moon. It seems the best way to take these pictures is to use the rebel with a mount for the camera. However (and this seems like a good idea, though my research has shown that it is of a lower quality), afocal pictures from the powershot through the lens would seem to work well (my moon pictures were me holding the camera up to the lens, a mount would have to be better). Either way I go, I will have something to try here.

So in the end, the answer is -------- upgrade the powershot. I still have the Rebel which is a fine camera, and can use it for the sport shots and where lighting is an issue (so I can control the flash a bit more). However, the new powershot seems to just get me more. As I use this most of the time, I will see the biggest overall improvement in my pictures. Also carrying around a camera that does high quality video might be fun (note current powershot does do lower resolution video, but the biggest complaint is that the optical zoom does not work while shooting video – which the SX210 overcomes (so the bowling movies should come out a bit better).

Also this choice will be a bit cheaper, and let me play at some of my other interests. I will be able to get a passable IR setup (that if I like, in the future, I can go the whole way). Additionally, I can start some astronomy photos. If I understand the limitations, I can see if I like it and move forward with that. In the end, there were just too many pictures I have taken with the powershot that I would have really liked to frame differently (zoom) or improved the low light. I tend to get decent results with the Rebel. Also as a side, I have taken so many pictures with the powershot, I feel that I have gotten my moneys worth out of it already. This is not the case for the Rebel (which cost more, but taken fewer (though better) pictures.

So what is your opinion on this choice.