Monday, 11 December 2017

How to locate the Polaris for star trail DSLR photography?

For the stargazers and DSLR photographers out there, Polaris (Polestar) is a really interesting astronomical body. Also known as the north star, the attractive feature of this star is its fixed position in the sky. Okay, let's say it appears to be fixed as I do not want to start a technical discussion about astronomy here. While all the other stars appear to move in the sky due to earth's rotation, this star is a bit stubborn and never leaves. 
The hot topic for today is how to locate this star in a sky full of stars? The best and easiest way is to locate the big dipper first which is also known by names such as a spoon, ladle, plough, etc. As a kid, I always used to call it a spoon. This seven-star asterism can easily be spotted in the clear sky even among city lights. It is a part of Ursa Major constellation. The outer arms of this ladle or spoon point to the Polaris as shown in the image below. I took this image using my Tokina DSLR lens having 25 second exposure time, F2.8 and ISO 800. 

Starbtrail dslr photography pole star
How to locate Polaris in the sky
One other possible and easy way to locate the Polaris is to use a smartphone app. There are so many smartphone apps on the market available for free. To use these apps, just launch them and point your smartphone towards the sky. It will give you an approximate idea of where the pole star is located. The super cool thing about smartphone apps is they are free and user navigation is much better. One of my personal favourites would be Night Sky from iCandi apps. A couple of other good ones are Sky Safari and Star walk, both of them are paid though.
Photos for star trail astrophotography can be taken on any clear sky night pointing the DSLR at any part of the sky. It can either be a single long duration shot or multiple photographs stacked using Star Stax. But why do we need Polaris for astrophotography? The simple answer would be to get more creative and unique images. Polaris (Pole Star or North Star) helps to form a circular spiral of star trails which tend to end at Pole Star. This gives a sense of depth to the image and is catchy to the eye. Other ways to capture creative star trails using your DSLR can be having a foreground like a tree, tower, house, etc.
I will talk in depth about doing star trail photography using a DSLR in my next post.
If you know of any other ways to locate the pole star, I would be happy to hear. Share the photography love:)

Friday, 17 November 2017

Adobe Lightroom CC vs Lightroom Classic CC

Adobe, a well-known name among photographers, finally made the decision that we as photographers will certainly not appreciate. They are no longer going to have a standalone licensed version of Adobe Lightroom after 2017. For those of us who have been a creative cloud user for a long time, deep inside our hearts, we knew this decision would come one day. Lightroom 6 is the last standalone version offered by Adobe outside of the creative cloud. Lightroom 6 will not be updated with bug fixes and camera RAW updates after 2017. So yeah, all the excitement about new DSLR cameras to be released in 2018 will come to a full stop sadly. But let's talk about what has changed. 

Lightroom has 2 version now, which is actually quite confusing as Adobe decided to keep the same name. One is called as Adobe Lightroom CC and the other one is Lightroom Classic CC. The one already on our desktops or laptops has been renamed to Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, and it is a part of creative cloud service. It is the full-fledged digital asset management and photo editing tool like it existed before. I personally didn't like the name change, it makes the Lightroom sound outdated. Lightroom CC is the online cloud-based version of Lightroom and has fewer features than the Lightroom Classic CC.  Maybe Adobe decided to do make a lighter version to have an edge over Apple when it comes to Lightroom CC vs Apple photos battle. One positive aspect of Lightroom CC is the ability to sync easily whether you are using it on an iPad, Mobile or a laptop. Some of the features missing in Lightroom CC are:
Keyword sync
Colour labels
Tone curves
DSLR Camera profiles or Lens Correction. 

Lightroom Classic CC Desktop
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC
In this section, I want to talk about what has changed in Lightroom Classic CC. First and the major breakthrough is the drastic improvement in speed. Yeah, try it yourself. Switching modes is considerably faster now and so is importing/cataloging RAW DSLR images. Importing a folder of 2000 Canon DSLR RAW images took approx 6 minutes on my desktop. My machine specs for the curious minds:
250 GB Samsung SSD
AMD A10 Processor
No dedicated GPU
Windows 10. 
In addition to this, there is a new feature called as range mask feature. It is located under local adjustment (linear, radial, etc.). If you think you will be okay with a monthly subscription with Adobe, Lightroom Classic CC is the tool to keep. But what are the possible replacements for someone who doesn't want to go for a creative cloud subscription? 
Few of the photo editing tools I have personally tried include RAWTherapee, Darktable, Affinity photo, ACDSee, Capture One Pro and Photoscape X. All of them have their own place in the market, so it's hard to appoint one as the best replacement for Lightroom Classic CC. 

If you think this post was helpful, share the photography love. :)

Friday, 3 November 2017

Best smartphone or mobile phone apps for DSLR photography

Smartphones offer great portability, and it is the major reason latest DSLR cameras include the capability to be connected to smartphones over wi-fi. Whether you do mobile phone photography or DSLR photography, there are a lot of apps that can help you with file editing on your smartphone itself. Most of the editing apps are available for both Android and Apple play store.
Let's talk about why smartphone based editing of photos is required? This is because not everyone wants to power a heavy laptop and launch an app for even simple photo edits. Also, a user has easy access to their smartphone more than a computer or laptop. Other benefits offered by smartphone-based editing include:
1) Some of the latest smartphone cameras allow shooting RAW images. RAW images carry a lot more data with them as compared to JPEG files. By using smartphone-based editing apps a user can unleash the full potential of photo editing without the need of a DSLR.
2) Editing and uploading can be done at same time. All the famous photo sharing platforms such as Instagram, Flickr and 500px have mobile apps too. It makes the sharing process very easy and highly convenient.
3) If you are shooting using a DSLR, no need for a computer or laptop. Just transfer the files to smartphone and start editing them instantly.
4) RAW files cannot be uploaded to photo sharing websites. Smartphone-based editing apps allow exporting as JPEG which can be uploaded to Instagram, 500px and Flickr.
Let's talk about the apps now and how much do they cost. I have personally used all of these apps on my smartphone at some point in time. For a detailed and in-depth review of each app, I will write a separate blog post. :)
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: Free.You don't need a creative cloud subscription for editing RAW files through the latest camera updates might require a subscription.
Google playstore.
Apple playstore.

VSCO: Free. This app has given a really hard time to Instagram filters. Easy to use.
Google playstore.
Apple playstore.

SKRWT- Paid. Perspective correction, EXIF data read and full auto-cropping of photographs.
Google Playstore
Apple playstore.

Snapseed: Free. One of my personal favourite apps. Tons of full-fledged photography features such as RAW editing, white balance, tones, curves, exposure, etc. The screenshot below shows the various features offered by this app.

dslr photography app snapseed
Screenshot of Snapseed

Google playstore.
Apple playstore.

Google photos: Free. Offers photo back, collage creation and simple editing such as lighting, contrast, vignette, etc.
Google playstore.

Photo pills - Paid. Special focus on Astro side of photography. Sun, moon and milky way. Allows a user to make plans, find good photography locations and long exposure shots.
Google playstore
Apple playstore.

ProCam 5- Paid. Only for iPhone users. Basically turns your iPhone into a DSLR camera. Includes night mode, burst mode, video mode, time-lapse mode and DNG files editing. Hard to beat this app.
Apple playstore.

Pixlr- Free. Overlays, filters and collages.
Google playstore.
Apple playstore.

Darkroom- Free. Only for iPhone users. RAW image support, batch processing, transform and 10 pre-bundled filters.
Apple playstore.

Enlight- Paid. Only for iPhone users and very similar to Photoshop. Offers tone curves, custom presets and customizable filters.
Apple playstore.

Adobe Photoshop Express- Free (trial). It's Adobe. RAW, TIFF and JPEG support. Offers watermarking, blemish removal, skin tine editing and what not.
Google playstore.
Apple playstore.

Instagram: Free. Photography app with a social and personal touch. Live videos, photo filters, cropping and all the other basic stuff needed to post cute selfies. ;)
Google playstore.
Apple playstore.

Hope the above list will help to take your creativity to another level. I am sure there must be other good photography apps too, but I can't try them all. If you know of any other amazing photography app that deserves to be in above list, drop me a line or leave a comment. Share the photography love. :)

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Difference between Monochrome, Grayscale and colour photographs.

I am sure there are many of us who must have heard words like Monochrome, Black & White, Grayscale and 32-bit colour images. These words carry more meaning when you have to deal with images being a DSLR lover or photographer. I was trying to scan an image recently and noticed the quality difference when I selected grayscale instead of black&white. It served as the source of motivation for this post. Let's dive in and see what's the difference in all these terminologies.
Monochrome photos: Monochrome image is known as a binary image. Each pixel is stored as a single bit (0 or 1). A 640 x 480 monochrome image requires 37.5 KB of storage. It can also contain varying tones of only one colour.
Black & White photos:
It has no Gray. It can also be considered as a special case of monochrome images. A good example of black & white would be chess board. All black & white printings are monochrome but not all monochrome printings are black and white. 

monochrome, grayscale and black-white
Grayscale image
Grayscale photos:
A grayscale image has values varying from black to white. In other words, it has varying shades of gray. In simple words, a grayscale image has more details than a black&white image. A 640 x 480 sized grayscale image would require over 300 KB of storage.

Color images or photos: Can be either 8 bit, 24 bit or 32 bit.
8 bit: One byte for each pixel. Supports only 256 out of the millions colour possible.(Calculated as 2^8)

24 bit: Each pixel is represented by 3 bytes as 1 byte=8 bits. These bytes are known as red, blue and green. 24-bit colour images offer the largest possible colour combinations. 256x256x256. (Calculated as 2^8 multiplied by 2^8 multiplied by 2^8).

32 bit: These images have 8 additional bits for alpha (transparency). 

Tip for photoshop: Any RGB image that has 8 bits/channel is known as a 24-bit image. 8 Bit for each red, blue and green colour. Photoshop lists the bit depth as bits/channel. Sometimes organizations will ask for a 24 bit JPEG which means 24 bits in total or 8 bits/channel in the language of photoshop.

If you think this post was helpful or informative, share the photography love:)

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Apple HEIF iOS 11 image file format and photography

With the release of a new operating system from Apple, a totally different image and video capturing format have been included for newer iPhones. The format is called as HEIF (High-Efficiency Image Format) and HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding) for images and videos respectively. HEVC is also known as H265 which is a successor of well known H264 MPEG-4 AVC.
Coming to the topic of photography, there are 2 minimum requirements to take pictures in HEIF format:
1) Hardware: iPhone 7 or later and newer iPad models. Technically speaking, it needs at least A10 processor for the encoding-decoding process. 
2) OS Version: iOS 11 and higher.
This means iPhone 5s, 6s, SE and 6 running iOS 11 will not be able to capture images in this format. For iPhone 7 and later, the camera by default captures photographs in this format.
Background: Both HEIF and HEVC are not opensource. They have been known since summer 2015, but their adoption on the web has been low so far because of the huge licensing fees involved. The license can be obtained from individual patent holders who participated in JCT-VC or from licensing companies such as MPEG LA, HEVC advance and Velos media. HEIF and HEVC are not owned by Apple.
JPEG Support for photographers:
When moving images to PC, iPhone converts them to jpeg images on the fly. This might be good for photographers who want to just copy files as fast as they can, but not so good for photographers who care about lossy compression. An iPhone user can actually prevent the camera from shooting in HEIF by going to camera option in settings and selecting "Most compatible" option. Let's talk about the good and bad sides now.
Less storage space consumed for equivalent quality jpeg image.
1) Not many software or apps are able to handle HEIF format files as of today. So this might create some problems for photography folks.
2) If a smartphone photographer wants to shoot in Jpeg format, they lose 4k 60 fps and 1080p 240 fps video capability as well. This is a big turn off, at least for me. Apple doesn't want a user to take pictures in jpeg and shoot videos in high quality at the same time.

Apple or Open source fformat for photographers
Equivalent open source solution for HEIF and HEVC

Is open source the solution?
With the adoption of HEIF by Apple, looks like there is an emerging rift between Apple and open source world. A few years ago, Google developed an open source alternative image compression codec called WEbP. It can be considered as a competitor to HEIF format, and who knows Google might add something fancy to it in coming months. Technology giants such as NVIDIA, AMD, Amazon, Cisco, Google, Netflix and Intel are a part of Alliance for open media. AV1 is their upcoming open source video format to compete with HEVC. It is to be released by the end of 2017. In the end, it would be interesting to see how AV1 performs in comparison with HEVC when it is released.

Do you think HEVC/HEIF is the future of image quality standards?

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Dual memory card slot DSLR vs single memory card slot DSLR

A couple of readers recently sent a message to my Facebook page asking the usage of dual memory card slot DSLR cameras. Most of the professional cameras have dual memory card slots, one as Compact flash and other as SD card. Some DSLR cameras have dual SD slots as well, but they are used by very few people.

dslr memory card slot
Single SD memory card slot DSLR
Examples of dual memory card slot DSLR cameras from Canon include:
Canon 1D Mark IV
Canon 1D Mark III
Canon 1D Mark II
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 7D Mark II
Examples of dual memory card slot DSLR cameras from Nikon include:
Nikon D300S
Nikon D3S
Nikon D5
Nikon D800
Nikon D800E
Nikon D7000
Example of dual memory card slot DSLR cameras from other manufacturers include:
Pentax 645D
Pentax K-1
Fuji X-T2
Panasonic GH5
Sony A9
Olympus E-M1II

The bigger question here is why do we need dual memory card slot DSLR cameras and whats the advantage? Let's try to find the answer from a user perspective. Professional cameras have 2 memory card slots for a variety of purposes, although the ability to use both cards at same time varies from brand to brand. The major reasons can be broadly summarized into three categories:

Better Redundancy: Same image across multiple memory cards. This offers to mirror same files, which in turn serves as back up. As a professional photographer, the worst scenario would be a failing memory card in the middle of a wedding. Professional photographers charge money, and clients expect them to be reliable no matter what happens. The camera writes twice in this scenario, as it has to mirror the same exact file. 

Different file format to a different card: This can save a lot of buffer space and improve the speed by a major gap. You can write RAW files to one memory card and JPEG files to the other. This saves a lot of time as it prevents the double passing of data going through the camera every time. If speed if your top priority for a dual card slot camera, this method works wonders. 

Auto Switching: 
This category applies to users who are more relaxed about the redundancy and speed of capturing photographs. It basically means the camera switches to the second card once the first card is filled.

Lastly, every manufacturer is coming up with unique ways to store different format data on multiple cards. Some Nikon DSLRs allow users to write video to one memory card and photos to the other. Canon allows a user to use both compact flash type I and II cards in some DSLR cameras. Also, the ability to use existing memory cards when upgrading bodies is another way to save some decent amount of money.

Do you think the flexibility offered by dual memory card slot DSLR cameras is worth the price? 

Friday, 28 July 2017

Best DSLR lens for astro milky way photography

Selecting a DSLR or lens for a particular type of photography is never easy, speaking from personal experience. Photography is an expensive hobby, which is the reason we want to get the best out of every dollar spent. I am writing this post to help my readers know the various options available in the market for ultra wide angle lenses. Tokina 11-16 mm F2.8 ultra wide angle lens is still a part of my night photography or astrophotography gear. It is one of the best purchases I ever made when it comes to photography.
An ultra-wide angle DSLR lens is a lens having a range less than 15 mm for a cropped (APS-C) sensor. For a 35 mm film or full frame camera, the value is 24 mm. In simple terms, an ultra wide angle lens covers an extremely wide area. This makes even bigger mountains look smaller when an ultra wide angle lens is used. 

Milky way shot
Milky way shot using Tokina 11-16 mm

There are so many third-party manufacturers of lenses in addition to the existing major brands such as Canon, Nikon, Sony and Fuji. After this comes the battle of lens compatibility between full frame cropped sensor cameras. I have made a list of available ultra wide-angle DSLR lenses with description text explaining their compatibility with a cropped sensor and full-frame DSLR cameras. 

An ultra wide angle lens can be used for milky way, northern lights and star trail photography. Another good use of an ultra wide angle lens is landscape photography to give the image a panorama feel. Tokina manufactures good ultra wide angle lenses, and they are well known for their sharpness and less distortion. A few of the well known Tokina lenses for astrophotography:
Tokina 14-20 mm F2 -> APS-C/DX. Cropped sensor lens.
Tokina 16-28 mm F2.8 -> Full frame/FX. Full frame sensor lens.
Tokina 11-16 mm F2.8 -> APS-C/DX. Cropped sensor lens. Nikon version doesn't have auto-focus.
Tokina 11-16 mm F2.8 II -> APS-C/DX. Nikon auto-focus version.
Tokina 11-20 mm F2.8 -> APSC/DX. Cropped sensor lens.
Tokina 12-24 mm F4 -> APSC/DX. Cropped sensor lens.

After Tokina, Rokinon (also known as Samyang) is the cheap and best choice for manual focus astrophotography lenses. Here are a few options from Rokinon:
Rokinon 14 mm F2.8. Full frame (FX) sensor lens.
Rokinon 24 mm F1.4 Full frame (FX) sensor lens
Rokinon 12 mm F2. APS-C/DX. Cropped sensor lens.
Rokinon 16 mm F2. APS-C/DX. Cropped sensor lens

Lastly, there are the original Nikon and Canon lenses. 
Nikon 14-24 F2.8 Full frame sensor lens.
Canon 10-22 mm F3.5-4.5. Cropped sensor lens. 
Sigma 8-16 mm F4.5-5.6 APS-C/DX. Cropped sensor lens.
Canon 16-35 F2.8 L. Full frame lens. 

I haven't tried all of the above lenses, but Tokina lenses haven't disappointed me yet. The pic in this blog post was taken with a Tokina 11-16 mm F2.8 lens. It stays on my DSLR 80% of the time. 

What's your favourite go-to ultra wide angle lens?