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Photofocus Episode 15

Show notes by Bruce Clarke ( or

This week we are starting off with a question about RAW sharpening.

Question One RAW File Sharpening

Dandra in Houston writes: You said a couple of shows back that all RAW files need to be sharpened. Why? JPEGS are sharpened in the camera automatically but why do all RAW files have to be sharpened some?

Rick: If someone likes a flat looking picture then you don’t have to do anything with the RAW files. Raw files come out a little flat. No sharpening has been done, no contrast or saturation changes have been done. My guess is that they come out a little flat because the camera manufacturers don’t want to lose any detail there particularly in a high contrast scene. When you sharpen you are basically increasing contrast around the pixels.

Scott: I spoke with engineers at Canon and Nikon about this very question a few years ago and asked them if its necessary to sharpen all RAW files and their answer was yes. The reason is during the conversion process from analog to digital, there is some loss in sharpness that occurs. The degree to how much you have to do it is minimal if you just want to restore the original sharpness.

Question Two D700 and DX Lenses

Otinsel Im considering a D700 as an upgrade from my D40. Will I get the full low-light benefit of the D700 when using it with my DX lens?

Scott: Yes, it doesn’t matter what lens you use on either the D700 or the D3. They both have great low-light performance. The DX lenses do have a different sweet spot however.

Question Three IS, VR, or OS on a Tripod

Donnert via Twitter says: On a tripod using IS, VR or OS (Canon, Nikon, Sigma) what is the true story? Yes or no, does it depend on the lens or on the body?

Scott: The true answer is that it depends. Whether or not you are going to use stabilization depends on which version of stabilization we are talking about. The original IS on the Canon you could not use on a tripod. If we are talking about the current stabilization on the big lenses then you can use stabilization on a tripod. The way to find this out is by checking in the camera manual and then test it on your own. In terms of image stabilization, it was invented to help you hand hold better.

Rick: When I have a long lens on a tripod (e.g. 100 400) I turn the IS off because the tripod is stabilizing the camera. No matter what you have, test it and check out what shutter speed you can shoot at different shutter speeds.

Scott: Let me throw in a tip about stabilization. If you use it, don’t be too quick on the trigger. It takes a portion of a second for the IS to kick in. If you just fire before the IS catches then its not going to work. Once its stabilized then you can just shoot until you reposition.

Question Four Travel Cases

StillwellMike on Twitter writes: Im travelling with a tripod, light stand, studio strobe and umbrella checked in on a plane. What is the best case to pack them in when checking them on a plane?

Scott: My motto is a checked bag is a lost bag so first off, if its at all possible, try to ship your gear ahead of you via UPS or FedEx. Its often around the same price as it will cost to ship on the airlines and will probably stand less of a chance of being stolen. That being said, I like the Pelican cases for stuff like this.

Rick: I like the Pelican cases because they are water proof but they do scream steal me so I try to throw them in an old duffle bag so that it doesn’t look too valuable. Renting might also be an option depending upon where you are going but be sure to leave yourself time to test the gear if you decide to rent.

Question Five Older Lenses

Patrick Knot says: Ive upgraded to a D700 and want to get some higher quality lenses. I would like to get the 14-24mm, the 24-70mm, and the 70-200mm but just those three alone will run me over $6000 dollars. For this reason I started to look at some older prime lenses that are available on the used market however they don’t have some of the newer coatings on them, etc. What are your thoughts on using these older models on the new bodies?

Scott: This question can apply to Nikon, Canon etc. There are a lot of great older lenses that will still work with the newer bodies however some of the functions might not work completely. I have both the 50 1.4 classic lens from Nikon and the new one. The new one is a tiny bit better but if I had to use only the old one Id be making better pictures than a lot of people because that is a tremendous lens. On a case by case basis you have to look at them to decide but as long as they are in good condition they should be fine. If they have mold or dust inside them then run away. Scratches on the front element rarely show up.

Rick: On older lenses, if they have been whacked around a little, some of the elements could be out of alignment which could affect focusing. If you are going to buy a particular lens, do a simple test. Put a piece of newspaper up on a flat wall and photograph it at f8 which is the sweet spot on most lenses.

Question Six Print Sizes

Kevin Hackworth says: I shoot with a Canon 50D and I want to print some of my photos as decoration in my home. How big of a print can I print and still have it look good?

Rick: Well the first thing that comes to mind is that you have to have a good image first. You know the old saying garbage in garbage out. You want the cleanest possible print which means shooting at the lowest possible ISO. On the lower end cameras you might have to shoot at ISO 100-200 to get the best possible quality print. As far as how big, it depends on the image quality and your printer. I think you could make a nice 20×24 inch print on that camera and maybe even a 24×36 inch print. You must calibrate your monitor. If your monitor is too light your prints are going to look too dark and vice versa. Then calibrate your printer. If the humidity level changes in your room then your print is going to look different as well so try to keep everything constant.

Scott: If youre shooting RAW and you get really good light then you should be able to get a good sized image but as you can gather there is lot more to getting a good print than what camera you use. Those are factors but they are only factors. Sometimes you can have an inferior camera to the one you have and still make good prints.

Rick: If you are just using a portion of the print, you can use a program from OnOne Software called Genuine Fractals to upsize an image hundreds of times.

Question Seven Remote Flash and Off Brand Camera Triggers

Peter Don’t from Belgium writes: I have a question regarding remote flash and camera triggers. Ive heard Rick often mention to take the darn flash off the camera. I own a Canon 40D and a 430EX flash. I found that PocketWizards and Alien Bees are too expensive and I found some cheaper substitutes on eBay. I know that the rule is that you get what you pay for but is there a risk in using the cheap ones? Whats the biggest difference between the name brands and the cheaper no name alternatives. I suppose that E-TTL is not supported by the cheaper brands? The plan is to buy an additional flash in the future to experiment with two flashes or more.

Scott: My opinion is that I have tested some of these and they will fire the flash. If that is all you are trying to get to and thats all the money you have then I think its worth a try. But, youre going to lose tons of functionality. Youre not going to get E-TTL support, youre not going to be able to control groupings of flashes, etc. The thing that I noticed when comparing them to using the Nikon SB800 controller is that we got great results with the Nikon but when it came to using a cheaper substitute we didn’t get the same results and it was impossible to control the power output of the strobes. We had to move the light 20 feet back which made it harsher. In my personal experience I would work with reflectors until I could afford the PocketWizards.

Rick: I would do the same thing. Save up and really get the brand names.

Question Eight Star Photography

Alexandre Bolduck has a Pentax K20D with a 50mm 1.4 and wants to do star photography. However, each time he tries the shot with long exposures, the stars don’t all come out white some of them come out blue or red. What causes that?

Rick: Perhaps his White Balance could be off? Chromatic aberrations might also be causing this and that is where the red, blue and green waves don’t focus on the same place on the sensor.

Scott: If only some of them are blue or red then the White Balance must be correct otherwise they would all be off. Without seeing the image its hard to say but here are a couple of tips for star photography. Make sure that you have your long exposure noise reduction turned on in your camera. Shoot on a tripod and make sure to set a custom white balance. Also try to get the best lens you can get. Neither Rick or I do a lot of star photography so if anyone out there has a better answer, drop us an email at [email protected] with your suggestions.

Question Nine Sensor Cleaning

Fred Light says: I have a Canon 5D Mark II and Ive noticed an incredible amount of dust on the sensor. Ive tried blowing it out but its not working. What do you recommend for cleaning a full frame sensor? Sending it to Canon or a camera store? Do it yourself? What brand or type of cleaner do you recommend?

Rick: I use the Sensor swabs from Photographic Solutions. If something is really stuck on then I use the Eclipse liquid and basically its ethanol. The Arctic Butterfly also works really well.

Scott: On the full frame Nikons, cleaning them is a real (insert word that rhymes with itch). The box around the sensor is very tight. I recently took my D3s to a shoot in a wheat field and they got covered with dust. I was able to blow one of them out but the other one I had to send away to Nikon for cleaning. My advice is to not be afraid to do it on your own. If you try blowing it out and it doesn’t come off its because the moisture has caused it to stick to the filter so you’ll need some kind of chemical to clean it. I like the Visible Dust products because they have sensor swabs that are sized for the sensor of your camera. I also use the Lens Pen

Rick: Ive seen on a few occasions where the dust gets past the low pass filter and in those cases you have to send it in to the manufacturer for cleaning.

Question Ten Aperture Settings

Doug writes in with a question about Aperture settings. Im new to photography and bought my first DSLR about 6 months ago and understand the effect of Aperture on depth of field and the effect on other settings to control proper exposure. I listen to your podcast and a few others and I notice that when aperture settings are discussed, there are few that get mentioned regularly such as 2.8, 5.6, etc but I notice that there are many more on my camera. Whats the reason for this?

Rick: People ask me all the time what aperture they should shoot at but it all depends on what you want to do. The smaller the aperture (the larger the number) the more things will be in focus. I shoot mostly in Av priority because most of my subjects are moving too fast and carefully select the f-stop for the depth of field that I want.

Scott: What I think is confusing him is that he has a digital camera and the digital camera will show you f3.1 instead of 2.8 and that is because they are not limited to the mechanical stops that we used to have in the lenses. When you hear f2.8, f4.0, f5.6, f8, f11, f16, f22, that is the natural progression of f-stops. Digital cameras are capable of finding places in between that.

Question Eleven Going Pro. Better Body or Better Glass?

Im a college student. I bought a Rebel XSi for fun. It quickly transformed into a side business. I want to take it seriously and I know that it will take some money. Would you recommend that I buy a pro level body and renting lenses until I get a good arsenal of those or would it be more wise to buy newer lenses and save longer for a good body. I shoot portraits and also 2nd shoot weddings. I think I have a good understanding of the technical basics needed to get the most out of a nicer body.

Scott: My advice when youre starting out is that the best camera to get is no camera. They always say how can I become a pro if I don’t have gear? I always answer back with how can you become a pro if you don’t have a client? Rent everything assigned to a particular job and let the client pay for it. That being said I think that good glass is the way to go particularly if you are shooting portraits and weddings. If you were shooting sports or birds then I would say that you need a faster body.

Rick: I agree with you. I have a top of the line Canon camera but my backup is the XSi and its a darn good camera so even if you get a better camera, use this as your backup. If you are going to go for the glass go for the fast glass and try to build your business.

Question Twelve Canon Rebel XS for Landscape Photography

Jason Ducini writes: I want to know if you have used the Canon Rebel XS and whether or not it would work in landscape photography? Would a 75-300mm pair well with the Rebel XS.

Rick: I used it for a couple of months and even have a DVD on the subject. Yes, it can be used for this type of photography. As far as lenses for landscape photography, I would say that the 75-300mm wouldn’t be my top choice for landscape photography. I would go with something like the 24-40mm. The 75-300 would be great for portrait work or if you wanted to isolate something specific in the scene. The camera has a lot of megapixels and probably more than you’ll need. Ill throw in a tip here as well on landscape photography. My number one tip is shoot during the golden hours early morning or late afternoon so you have deeper shadows which help add a sense of depth and dimension.

Scott: My landscape tip is to underexpose to over saturate the colors.

Question Thirteen Shutter Speeds on Crop-Sensor Cameras

Rob Campbell asks: How do you consider the focal length when working with a crop sensor camera when youre trying to determine the minimum shutter-speed for handholding?

Scott: If its a 100mm lens on a full frame camera, generally the slowest shutter speed you can hand-hold it at would be 1/100th of a second or faster. When you start using a crop sensor camera, that 100mm lens is more like a 150mm in terms of effective focal length. Often times people think that they can cheat and hand hold it at 1/100th but they can’t so you want to shoot at a higher shutter speed to avoid blur.

Rick: Check your camera manual to see what the crop factor is on your particular camera. Some are 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 so you have to multiply that number by the focal length of your lens to come up with your effective focal length and thus your minimum shutter speed.

Question Fourteen Is Boosting Saturation in Camera Cheating?

Josh Noram has a D700 and he likes to shoot things with saturation boosted 2 or 3 levels as he likes the skies nice and blue and the colors more vivid, etc. He was showing a picture to somebody where he had boosted the saturation in camera and they said that is cheating. So the question is how do you feel about boosting saturation in camera for more vivid colors?

Scott: I feel just fine. I have no problem doing it unless Im a photojournalist doing a shoot for editorial consideration. Otherwise I don’t see a problem with it. All those pictures that Ansel Adams took of waterfalls that looked like cotton candy it didn’t really look like that.

Rick: Ansel Adams could be considered the biggest cheater of them all because by taking color out of the scene he was removing some of the reality out of the scene. We could say the same thing about a 300mm lens where the background is blown out or with a tilt-shift lens. Even using the camera could be considered cheating so it can go to a level of absurdity.

Scott: Another tip is that if youre shooting in RAW then you don’t need to boost the saturation in camera as you can do that when you process the RAW file but if you are shooting in JPEG and want to bake that in that you do.

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Wrap Up

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Show notes by Bruce Clarke or