In Focus, Bangkok Images
August 23, 2008
By BKKSteve

Vietnam Hotel Guide
• Cham Villas
• Coco Beach Resort
• Hoang Ngoc Resort
• Little Mui Ne Cottages

Feature Photograph

 

This weeks Feature Photograph was taken from a small pier on Pattaya Bay where the small fishing boat fleet docks each night to rest and complete maintenance before getting underway early the next morning for another day of fishing.  This photograph is significant because it was taken in conditions we all come across at one time or the other and if we left our cameras in “automatic mode” we’d get a very boring image or perhaps take no image at all.

The conditions are an extreme variance of light in the scene, from very bright to very dark.  There was maybe 12-14 stops of difference in this scene, while the best quality and newest DSLRs can only capture a max of about 8 stops.  This means if the camera would have metered on the boat the beautiful sky would have been rendered a very dull and bright shade of white/gray.  However, by manually metering on the sky the boat become a silhouette of darkness leaving the sky at its natural level of light and beautiful colors.  The question in composition was:  “Does the silhouette still tell the story of the boat in the scene?”   I think it does, and it tells the story in a more unique and subtle way that allows us to focus on the serenity of the two men preparing for a day of fishing, instead of on all the often distracting details of a busy and cluttered fishing boat. 

Keep in mind this was a near dark morning in conditions where most people would never think of taking a photograph.  The bright morning sky allowed a ISO of 100 at F11 (any brighter and we’d need to go to ISO 50 or use a ND filter to avoid diffraction softness by stopping down past F11)   In contrast if we’d just metered on the boat and cropped out the overexposed background we could get some interesting people shots, but because the boat was so dark that you could barely make out movement on the deck we used ISO 800, a wider F4 aperture, and a 1/50th shutter speed to increase light sensitivity (a total of 7 stops from the shot above) resulting in an image that ‘appears’ to have been taken in full daylight.  DSLRs have capabilities far beyond what most photographers either use, or know they can use.

 

Weekly Photo Outing

This week we take our small compact point and shoot digital camera to the Kantoke Palace in Chiang Mai.   Everyone visits Chiang Mai at one time or the other during their travels through Thailand and there’s no better place to enjoy a nice traditional northern Thailand dinner and show than the Kantoke Palace.

 

If my memory serves me correctly an all you can eat dinner, drink, and show ran 450 baht per person.  I definitely remember it being a great deal.  You sit in a big open air but totally covered theater at low tables where you sit on the floor.  Instead of crossing your legs just stick them under the table and you’ll find a hollow perfectly spaced to allow your legs to sit like you’re on a chair.  Once seated they’ll start bringing food and during the entire time different types of entertainment is happening all around you.  You don’t know whether to eat, watch, or take pictures!

 

I was a guest and didn’t even think to bring my DSLR which was packed carefully back in my hotel room.  However, I always carry a small point and shoot in my knapsack so taking my Canon G9 from my knapsack I set it on the table and waiting for what I thought would make a good photograph.  They dimmed the lights over the tables and used spotlights on the entertainers so I selected the closest white balance I could find and then tried a few with and without the G9’s internal flash.  I was seated at a table about 20-40 meters from the subjects so I was using the full range of the 24-205mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens, and I found the internal flash did a good job of filling in where the spotlights didn’t.  This wasn’t an easy set but with a bit of trial and error I soon had my compact taking pictures that many can’t tell from a professional DSLR.

 

The food was great and they replaced the empty dishes with full dishes without even asking.  After the show we walked through the exhibits and venders area and rare for me I even bought a few things.  There were some shirts that really looked comfortable and I bought two.  After the first washing they now fit my 12 year old next door neighbors boy.  Buyer beware.  Mark this one on your list of “must visits” for your next trip to Chiang Mai. 

 

Resizing images

This is a subject often asked, but obviously not asked often enough.  Today’s 12 megapixel cameras output images which are roughly 4200x3400 pixels and in jpeg format roughly 3mb in size.  Have you ever seen your mailbox icon flashing for what seems like forever and no mail coming through?  Chances are someone sent you a bunch of their latest vacation photographs and didn’t resize them, and now you’ll have to wait as your mail server processes 30-40mb’s of images.  Wouldn’t it be nicer if the images were only 40-60kb’s and you could view them just fine?   I’ll show you how.

The most common computer monitor used today has 1024x768 pixels of resolution.  This is on the cheaper end of monitors.  Each pixel represents a tiny individual light that can be any color.  No matter what you do, how big the image is, you can only view 1024x768 (or 786,432) pixels at any one time, and that’s only if the picture perfectly fits your screen.  This is more than four times less than the original files!  If you resized your image to 1024x768 you would not see any more detail, no better picture, nothing better at all, over viewing the original file ‘full size’ on the same monitor.  The ONLY benefit to a full size image, is that you can zoom in on parts of it and see more detail.   If a 1024x768 image filled your screen and you zoomed in, it would zoom in, but it would start pixelating (where you can see the individual pixels of the image) right away.   A full size image would allow the viewer to zoom in and read license plate numbers.

Do the people you send your photos to need to read license plate numbers?  I doubt it.  The largest image used in this column is 600 pixels wide at the longest point and the file is 69kb vs. the original 3.4mb’s.  In other words, it takes just a second to pop up on your screen, where a full size image would take minutes.   It works the same way with email.  Most images are meant to be viewed in “full frame” (where you see the entire picture at once) and are fine for sharing holiday pictures and the such with friends and family.  When I email my friends and family I send them 600 pixel images on the longest side, and tell them if they want bigger ones to make a big print from to just let me know and I can send it separately.   Keep in mind, that if a 600 pixel image fills a physical area on your monitor of say 5x7 inches, then that 600 pixel image will make a perfectly good 5x7 photograph. 

How do you resize?  Windows Vista’s Photo gallery has an “email” tab.  Bring your image up in the viewer and click “email” and it offers you some choices of resolution and as you choose the different resolutions it estimates the size of the final jpeg file.  A 640x480 resolution image makes a roughly 50kb file and will send very fast via email, view a nice large size, and even make nice 5x7 prints.  Overkill not desired.  Once you choose your resolution the Photo Gallery asks if you want to attach it to an email or save it in a separate directly to attach yourself.  Choose which is most convenient and that’s all there is to it.

What if you don’t have Windows Vista?  Every operating system comes with a picture viewing program and a paint program of some type.  Open the picture in whatever photo software you have, go to image resizing, and put in your desired resolution.  Then go to “file” and “save as” and when saving a jpeg is then asks you which compression you want.  Choose 50-70% compression.  The image will look fine.  At this size compression artifacts won’t be an issue.   I hope you found this topic useful and will soon be sharing your photos with family and friends.
 

Photography News of Interest

Britain’s War on Photography continues.  London has more cameras taking pictures of people in public than anywhere else in the world, yet there is growing hostility when regular people take pictures of other regular people.  Do you think the intrusiveness of one colors their view of the other?

Interesting in time lapsed photographs of a cupcake baking?  One never runs out of things to do with a camera..  All cupcakes all the time.

Aerospace photo contest anyone?  If you’re lucky enough to have access to aircraft perhaps you have a great photograph to enter for a chance to win $1000.00?  Only four weeks to deadline!

CNN is not my favorite news network and this story illustrates the perils of trying to rewrite history using photography as “evidence..”  CNN’s faulty portrait of Black America.


Readers Submissions

I’ve been receiving some very nice photos from our readers and I’m grateful.  Photography is all about sharing your experiences with others and this readership really travels!   It’s especially great when a reader takes exception to something I said and shares information.  In this case Dave C took exception to my comment “if you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all” and provided proof that some temples really are different.  Thank you Dave C. 

Wat Goo Pa Deng near Chiang Kham

If you want to see a very unusual temple and grounds go to Wat Goo Pa Deng in Chiang Kham (about 100 km east of Chiang Rai) The statuary are located in the woods surrounding the temple building.  It's definitely a dark sort of place...  I never saw another temple like it in Thailand.

                

                    

I suspect the readers submissions will be a highly anticipated section of this column and I encourage anyone with photographs and travel accounts they’d like to share to please send them to me at:  QandA@Bkkimages.com

 

Readers Questions

Rick asks: 

G'day Steve

Have a camera question for you...

I read an old sub of yours about taking pics in low light levels, and you recommended the Fuji F30 I believe.
Unfortunately they don't make them anymore, so I am wondering what would be your camera of choice now?

I'm after a compact camera for the wife's birthday, and have been looking at the Sony Cybershot W300 here in Australia....supposed to have bugger all noise when taking photos at high ISO levels.

Some specs and reviews below...

Oh...and could you also include in your findings which is the better camera for "point and shoot" modes....I understand the Lumix series sold here have a pretty good "Artificial Intelligence" system. My wife has trouble mastering the microwave....so I'm after something that fits in her handbag, and she can whip it out and snap off a few pics without having to reinvent the wheel.

Thanks again....better send me a link to your column too...I'll have to start looking soon as her birthday is 8th September.

Rick –

Your question arrived at an opportune time.  A reader had just dropped off his Fuji F100fd for a planned comparison test against the Fuji F30 and the Canon G9.

To begin, I want to say that I’m going to cut through all the marketing hype and go straight to what you need to know.  First, point and shoot compacts are used 99% of the time in the automatic mode so this is how I’ll compare them.  Second, like generation point and shoot compacts have sensors very similar to each other in terms of image quality.  Third, the biggest differences between models isn’t in image quality, but rather in size, weight, lens zoom range and aperture, battery capacity (shots per charge), flash memory type, and exposure programming.  We’ll concentrate on the important stuff and leave you to pick a model based on comparing ‘your’ desired features vs. price.

Size and weight is a matter of personal preference.  Some people want a model small enough to fit in their pocket, others like it big enough to feel good and secure in the hand.  Zoom ranges vary from approximately 24mm to 550mm (35mm equivalent).  As a rule, the more wide the range the less the image quality.  I find something in the 28-200mm range plenty adequate with excellent quality, but wouldn’t hesitate to get an even smaller range of say 28-120mm.  Batteries are now almost always rechargeable lithium ion’s and vary greatly in shot capacity from roughly 100-800 images per charge.  Flash memory, try to pick a model that uses either flash memory you already have, or flash memory you’re going to have for something else. A 1gig card in most cases will be plenty, but with 4g cards for under $40 these days it might be wise to splurge.  Exposure programming and internal jpeg processing is the real difference between most models and to learn about this you’ll just have to read reviews, both professional and users feedback.

Features I personally enjoy in a point and shoot?

  1. Small enough to carry in a knapsack, but not so small its hard to hold and use.
  2. Zoom range of approximately 28-220mm.
  3. Battery capacity of at least 200 images per charge, ideally much more.
  4. SDHC flash memory type (I use this in 5-7 other devices I own already from PDA’s to my GPS to my professional Canon 1dsMarkII.
  5. I prefer as much control over the exposure programming as possible, external knobs to change modes preferred.  I’m in the 1% of point and shoot users who uses their point and shoot compact in other than automatic mode about 1% of the time.. when I do, I like control.

One P&S rarely stands out significantly from another.  A few years ago I wrote a review on the Fuji F30 because this little gem was able to take flashless images AT NIGHT out in the streets of Thailand and produce good quality images.   It did this better than any other P&S by a significant margin, and almost as good as entry level DSLRs.  I predicted professionals would buy them up quickly.  They did.  If you can find a used Fuji F30 of F31, you’ll often pay 3-4 times it’s original cost.  It’s almost a cult camera with its 600 image battery, low light capability, and small pocket size.  I’ve used mine a lot and love it.  Unfortunately Fuji went with the “Megapixel Race” and discontinued the F30/31 and started selling high megapixel compacts in their place.

The Fuji Finepix F100fd came to market a few generations later.  It’s about the same size, but the corners are more rounded and it feels more comfortable to carry.  The battery is barely good for 200 images, the LCD screen is bigger and brighter, it has 12mp’s compared to the F30’s 6mp, and it’s lens covers from 28-140mm vs. the F30’s 36-108mm.  The F100fd also takes XD, SD, and SDHC flash cards.  The F30 only takes the relatively more expensive and rare XD flash cards.

In contract the significantly larger but still compact Canon G9 feels like its hewn from a solid block of steel, accepts batteries from Canon Rebel DSLRs good for 300-400 images, has a 35-210mm very sharp lens, and accepts common and inexpensive SD and SDHC flash memory cards.  In addition it has exposure mode and ISO external knobs, a wonderfully huge and detailed 3” LCD, a hot shoe that accepts even Canon professional speed lights, and it has what only a handful of P&S compacts have.. a RAW file output mode.  It’s no surprise at all this is the preferred P&S compact for professional photographers.

How good are the images?  About 10% of the images on my website and that I’ve used in the weekly columns are from the F30 and G9.  Can you tell which ones?  How good the image looks will depend 95% on how the photographer uses the camera vs. 5% on the camera itself.  So you can see, if you’re going to use the camera in automatic mode like 99% of everyone else.. you want it to have the best internal exposure modes available.  If you’re in the 1% who will actually manually manipulate the controls then you want a camera with external exposure mode and ISO settings, and a manual mode in addition to the standard Auto, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Speed Priority modes.  If you already have a DSLR and own a external flash, it’s a plus if the P&S can use that flash.

How did the comparison between the three models go?  The F30 is the champ by a significant margin in any sort of low light.  It’s also the slowest of all three in every way you can measure speed.  Zoom, focus lock, shutter button delay, shot to shot time, etc.   The F100fd is faster than the F30 in every way, takes images with twice the resolution, has a much nicer LCD, makes marginally nicer images in good light, and significantly worse images in low light.   The F30 has an external exposure mode knob, much easier to use than hunting through the LCD menus in sunlight.   The Canon G9 in comparison was faster and easier to use in every way to both of them.  It’s daylight images were marginally better than the Fuji F100fd.  It’s low light images significantly worse than the Fuji F30.

It looks like I’ll be keeping BOTH the Fuji F30 and Canon G9.  They excel in different areas and are the only two P&S’s in recent years that I feel stand out from the pack of P&S’s in any huge way.  There are literally hundreds of available P&S models on the market, and with very few exceptions all provide approximately the same image quality, that 5% that’s the camera.  95% will still be the photographer using the camera.

How does this answer your question?  I hope now you can see what features and specifications are important, and apply this knowledge to your selection basing desired features vs. cost.  And I hope you understand that image quality is only 5% the camera, and 95% the photographer.  Chances are the Sony W300 is a fine camera.  So are a hundred others.  Shop features vs. cost.

Here are three images from the three cameras, all taken within minutes of each other.  Can you see any significant difference in image quality between them worth influencing your purchasing decision?

Please submit your questions to QandA@Bkkimages.com   All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.  

A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review 

Yoo-hoo!  This week has been productive!   I’ve learned how to build a modern flash website for Bangkok Images using Lightroom!  It wasn’t easy to learn because I had to do all the setup and put the pieces to the puzzle together on my own,  and it took me the better part of a five very full days to get the new site built, debugged, and up live.  I’m so glad I did as I think it looks much better.  Only a few of the galleries are up, but I’ll be adding more as I have time.

Now that I’ve done all the grunt work I’ll be offering “How to build a photo based website using Lightroom” as a one day workshop.  In one day, I can teach you how to build your own website and actually have a functioning website up on-line before the day is over.  Not only that, but if you want to sell your photography we can also add Paypal, Google, or Email ordering.   I wish I would have known someone locally to teach this, it would have saved me five very full days and lots of headaches..

Mirrored Blog

Is a RAID array right for you?

Filed under: Technique, Computer Hardware, Accessories — bkksteve @ 10:55 am

There has been much written about storage devices and requirements for imaging professionals and there are many types.  There is internal storage, external storage, and off-site storage.  Lets briefly discuss each type.

Internal Storage:  Internal storage is the hard drives, dvd drives, SSD’s, and RAID arrays inside your computer case.  Everyone has different ideas of the perfect system but most agree a fast 10,000 RPM SATA II drive such as the Western Digital 150g or 300g Raptor to be ideal for a fast system drive.  A system drive holds your operating system and programs.

An imaging computer using Photoshop and/or other imaging programs also needs a “scratch” disk for temporary files created during processing.  A small high performance drive speeds performance, but I’ve found Hitachi’s 1tb 7200rpm SATA II drives just as fast as the 150g WD Raptor so now I have three of these 1tb Hitachi drives in my case running as separate drives.  I use as a “work” and “scratch” drive, it holds my current work files.  When the project is finished the files get moved to an internal storage drive.  I use another to hold my most recent image archives, and another as a destination drive for Norton Ghost 14 to backup both my system drive, my work drives, and my recent archives.  So far this is working fine for me.

External Storage:  External storage are devices such USB or Firewire drives are very popular and getting less expensive for quality units.  These are also external RAID arrays of various types.  I use Lacie’s Big Disk Extreme Plus because they are both reliable and they have a triple interface, USB, Firewire 400, and Firewire 800.  These are quality very well built units with internal cooling and RAID capabilities which can be run 24/7 if desired.  I use these for backing up my archives and moving large blocks of images between workstations when I need it done faster than my gigalan network can do it.

Off-site Storage:  Off-site storage simply refers to any storage device not physically connected to your workstation/computer but which can still be accessed via your internal home network or via the Internet.  I use Hammer Technologies MYSHARE storage devices as both NAS (network attached storage) and as a FTP server (file transfer protocol) and they’ve been very reliable.  I back up my system drives from my workstation and laptops using Norton Ghost 14, my archives and work disks, and just about everything else.  This also makes them available to me from anywhere in the world via my personal FTP, or to upload images while on the road as a secondary storage device.

I’ve learned to rely on a multi-layer approach to storage, each of the above devices has their purpose and I wouldn’t want to be without either one of them.  At the end of each year I buy an appropriate size internal SATA HDD and move my years work images and catalogs to this drive and then carefully label and wrap it before storing it off-site in a fireproof safe.  ALL my archives are also safely kept on an internal RAID 50 array and this is the topic of this blog entry.

My luck with RAID arrays has been very bad and I hope this is about to change.  My main workstation is water cooled out of necessity since I live in Bangkok and it’s very hot here.  I had a 4tb RAID array driven by a Promise Technology’s EX8350 Supertrak RAID controller configured in two 1.5tb RAID 5 arrays.  My archives were kept on one, and backed up on the other.  This used to be my “backup” and this was a major mistake.

One day a $2.00 plastic fitting on my cooling fluid tank broke and wiped out 12 internal hard drives, 8 of them 500g SATA II drives I was using for both RAID 5 arrays.  It wiped me out.  3 years of travel to exotic South East Asian locations and the images I worked so hard to capture, tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses, and three more than half finished books on the area, all gone for a $2.00 fitting.  As you can see from my multi-layer storage approach above I’ve learned my lesson. (I also replaced all plastic fittings with brass fittings)  I did manage to save about 30% of my work by buying some new 500g drives of the exact make and model, and using the new low level and power boards managed to find 3 disks intact which I ran up in a RAID critical mode and managed to save about 30%.  Thank you for small favors.

Since then my Promise EX8350 card had failed me three times, each time I lost more data, but because I now backed up on several devices in several locations data loss was kept to a minimum.  Still, I was constantly fighting to keep the RAID array working properly within the Windows environment and the cards failed after 3-12 months.  Simply put it was not a reliable method of storage which I could count on.  Promise Tech to their credit promptly replaced the controllers and offered good technical advice, but still I was never able to use the RAID arrays reliably and even if I could I found them too slow for real time use.

This last time my EX8350 Supertrack Controller went bad Promise Tech did the right thing and shipped me their new EX8650  SAS/SATA RAID controller which is their newest fastest and best RAID controller yet.  Several on-line reviews reveal this new controller to not only be very reliable, but also very fast.  It can utilize the newest 15,000 rpm SAS hard drives if you want speed and performance, or even Seagates new 1tb SAS 7200rpm drive if you just need fast storage, or standard SATA II drives for economy.  The new EX8650 will even allow you to run two arrays from the same card, dividing it’s eight ports, with one array hosting fast 15,000 rpm drives for real time processing and the other array hosting large storage drives for archiving.  You can divide the ports in any order.  This sounds ideal!

My new card will arrive next week and the lead engineer at Promise Tech USA will be getting back to me soon, hopefully with some recommendations on compatible hard drives and motherboards.  The EX8350 only required a PCIe 4x slot, but the new EX8650 requires a PCIe 8x slot so it appears I’ll be upgrading the motherboard of my workstation.  I won’t mind this relatively small expense, or even the more major expense to purchase a combination of 15,000 rpm SAS drives and 7200rpm large SAS drives, IF I can make my system perform as advertised and as they’ve done in the review.

I suspect it will take me about two weeks to order in my new motherboard and SAS drives, rebuild my workstation, and use it enough to update my experiences here in my blog.  I’m looking forward to adding another layer of storage which can “do it all” on it’s own.

 

The author can be contacted at : QandA@Bkkimages.com.
 
The publisher of this website, NOT this article, can be contacted at: stickmanbangkok@gmail.com.