camera sensor technology – slash my ex

black and white street photography by Markus Hartel, NY
black and white street photography by Markus Hartel, NY
click on image for larger view

The recently filmed video documentary , which was shot with two different cameras, a Sony NEX-7 and a Canon Rebel t3i, led to a discussion about sensor technology and how they record the image (both have CMOS sensors btw., the Leica M9 has a CCD sensor).

For the intro, a running subway train was shot from the platform and due to the motion of the train – and the horizontal, scan line recording pattern of the camera the car’s windows appears to be distorted, something film makers call “rolling shutter”.

eventually, I mentioned the Sigma DP-1 with its Foveon sensor, and went through the archives to demonstrate the fantastic detail it captures, irregardless of the low megapixel count. I imagine the Leica M9 monochrom to be along those lines in terms of quality, as it simply doesn’t have a color filter in front of the sensor.

much less less of an issue with still photography, and a great example is Jacques Henri Lartigue’s photo of a race car

looking back at the 2,910 shots I have taken in a little over a year, the DP-1 didn’t work out for me, I’d go through my photo library and kept remembering what a horrible experience it was… the shot above “Slash my ex” was taken with the Sigma DP-1 and processed in Lightroom 4

CCD vs CMOS sensor technology further reading

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resizing film grain vs digital noise

street photography in black and white by Markus Hartel, New York

Oh I’ll bet this has been asked and answered a billion times, but has anyone ever seen a good explanation between the difference between film grain and digital pixels.

What I mean by that is that you can take a nice “clean” digital image from a good sized noiseless sensor and with some interpolation you can go very large with it even though you are beginning with a file that is actually much smaller than a full 35mm scan which is about 78 MB (or somewhere in that area if it’s RGB and 16 bit).

But as I say – I can take a much smaller digital file and easily go to that size with an interpolation program without seeing any noise or artifacts.

I’m not really saying it clearly but I remember when I began the switch from film to digital I had an idea that those grains corresponded to pixels and they just don’t. Anyone ever go through the same conceptual enigma?

film grain is somewhat organic and random, where pixels are ordered in a rigid grid and normal linear (or cubic, bicubic) algorithms just work better with that sort of “order”.

if you take a film scan with organic grain, it pretty much interferes with the pixel pattern and your imaging software doesn’t know exactly what to do with that seemingly random mess.

also, film grain looks differently in the highlights, midtones and shadows and that makes it even harder to compensate.
digital noise on the other hand is somewhat ordered and repetitive, hence makes sensor specific/heat map noise reduction in camera possible… it also explains why noise reduction algorithms (there, math again) work so well with digital, but fail miserably with the randomness of film.

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flash on the street

coney island with fill flash

sometimes the use of fill flash can help you out tremendously in harsh lighting conditions, or just provide the extra kick for the look of your pics… I started out using an off-camera cord, but hated every second the logistics of it, so…

option #1 off-camera flash cord, which is a pain in the ass to use, I always I feel like I’m trapped and can’t move around freely ($74.95 for the canon model one I use). there are cheaper alternatives, but I happen to shoot Canon when I’m not using the M9…

pocket wizards

option #2 Pocket Wizards, fairly expensive at $169 for the Plus II and $295 for the Multimax, but granted, they can do wonders for commercial and studio work, but just don’t fly in the street (matter of fact, they will go flying out of your hands, as the receiver needs a hotshoe adapter/cord and some creative rigging with rubber bands, velcro or whatnot). besides, they are ridiculously big on a rangefinder… you will also poke your eye out with the antenna. the newer, smaller versions are supposedly just as good though.

cowboy studio radio trigger

option #3 is pretty kick-ass: Cowboy Studio radio trigger, basically a radio trigger without the frills, or the size of Pocket Wizards, small, cheap and it works like a charm, opposed to the wireless triggers one can find on ebay. ack.

I’m using a Canon 430EX in manual mode, mostly @1/32 or so, but I also have a bunch of old school Vivitar 283’s ($30, tops) with the additional Varipower module, which allows to dial the power down to 1/32 for fill. the newer Vivitar 285 has variable power built in.

another really cool thing about the Vivitars – there is an accessory to plug them into the wall, which is awesome for on-location shoots. and a battery pack, which I never bothered to get… at low power the 4AA batteries will last a long time.

and yes, I pointed the flash towards the ceiling for effective fill and to avoid flare shooting into the mirror. in the streets that thing is in your face and works like a charm…

purchase the gear on amazon:
Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras
PocketWizard 801-130 Plus III Transceiver
CowboyStudio NPT-04 4 Channel Wireless Trigger
PocketWizard MiniTT1 Transmitter and FlexTT5 Transceiver for Canon DSLR Bundle
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for Canon EOS Digital SLR Cameras
PocketWizard PW-MMAX 802-450 MultiMAX Transceiver

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Guide Guide for Photoshop

I give you GuideGuide: a columns, rows and midpoints panel for Photoshop CS4 & CS5
most excellent for (web) design in Photoshop

purchase & download directly from amazon:
Adobe Photoshop CS6 | Adobe Photoshop Elements 11

Redefine your photography with TopazLabs plug-in bundle
Purchase TopazLabs B&W White Effects today!

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Easy Neutral Colors

Oftentimes it might be a bit tricky to achieve the right White Balance, especially when shooting jpg. I usually shoot RAW and try to get the color temperature as close as possible in Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom.

For this tutorial I purposely introduced a slight yellow-ish warm cast to the image. Oftentimes, it’s hard to find a neutral spot for using the mid-gray picker in the curves or levels… the goal is to make this image as neutral as possible with the least amount of work.

First we make a duplicate via “duplicate layer”:

which should look like this:

now, select the top layer and run the Filter>blur>average filter, which gives us some ugly looking brown mess like this:

now we make a curve adjustment layer:

take the neutral color picker (the middle one) and click anywhere in the brownish area
(marked with the X) – voila, your brown shows as neutral gray:

here how this simple move applies to the RGB channels without me (or you) touching a single curve:

now you can simply deactivate (or toss) the middle layer to see the final result – pretty cool, huh:

The easy way out: If you go into the curves “options” dialog you’ll find a “Snap Midtones” option which works almost (but only almost, depending on the image) as good:

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Channel Mixer Settings

here are some Photoshop Channel Mixer values to create the look of different kinds of film

Film Type R G B Film Type R G B
AGFA 200X 18 41 41 Ilford Pan F 33 36 31
Agfapan 25 25 39 36 Ilford SFX 36 31 33
Agfapan 100 21 40 39 Ilford XP2 Super 21 42 37
Agfapan 400 20 41 39 Kodak T-Max 100 24 37 39
Ilford Delta 100 21 42 37 Kodak T-Max 400 27 36 37
Ilford Delta 400 22 42 36 Kodak Tri-X 400 25 35 40
Ilford Delta 3200 31 36 33 Normal Contrast 43 33 30
Ilford FP4 28 41 31 High Contrast 40 34 60
Ilford HP5 23 37 40 Generic B/W 24 68 8

note: open up the Channel Mixer, activate the "Monochrome" setting and type in the given RGB values.

purchase & download directly from amazon:
Adobe Photoshop CS6 | Adobe Photoshop Elements 11

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Sunny 16 Rule



A simple rule of thumb for taking photos in daylight without a light meter. The rule is quite easy to remember – if you’re taking a photo in bright daylight set the aperture to f/16 and set the shutter speed to be as near as possible to the same number as the film speed.

So if you’re using ISO 100 film, for example, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/125 sec, since 1/125 is the closest shutter speed value to 100 on a typical camera.

If you want to use a different aperture calculate the number of stops away from f/16 you want to use and then adjust the shutter speed accordingly. For example, f/11 is one stop larger than f/16, so you’d need to increase your shutter speed by one stop. So if you’re using ISO 100 film you’d set the aperture to f/11 and the shutter speed to 1/250 sec.

This rule works because the light output from the sun is a pretty constant value – the sun itself puts out a nearly constant amount of light at all times. Only precisely calibrated equipment can detect the light fluctuations of the sun.

here are some variations for a sunny day:
Full sun – f/16
Half sun – f/11
Open shade – f/8
Darker shade – f/5.6
Darkest shade – f/4

with a little bit of practice, you won’t need your lightmeter anymore. follow this link for Fred Parker’s excellent exposure guide.

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Zone focusing

With street photography zone focusing can be a life-saver between the decisive moment and a hit-and-miss-shot – toss the autofocus camera and get a manual lens instead…

Zone focusing is pretty straightforward, the photographer simply uses the DOF (Depth Of Field) effect to have the desired object(s) at working distance in focus. Zone focussing comes in handy, when there is no time to fiddle with the camera controls, or when the photographer wants to be extra unconspicious – without using the viewfinder to focus (aka. shooting from the hip).

Once you know what an f-stop is, and how to set it on your camera, you’re good to go. After some time you will get better at guessing distances and you’ll be a master of zone focusing in no time…
In the illustration above, the aperture (f-stop) is set to f8 and the focus is set to 2m (~7ft). The focus ring also shows f-stop markings to either side of the focus point (DOF scale).

Every f-stop shows a line directly related to a number on the distance scale. In this example everything from 1.5m to 3m (5ft to 12 ft.) will be in focus. This works at any distance and with any lens with DOF markings.

zone focusing is much more practical for street photography than the hyperfocal distance, which simply extends DOF from infinity into the foreground, which is great for landscape photography. street photography rarely needs to rely on infinity focus and smaller apertures like f8 or f5.6 are more common and a close working distance (hence zone focusing, also called scale focusing) are more practical.

Another great technique is to learn how to guess distances and using muscle memory in combination with a tabbed lens.

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Develop b/w film at home 101

There are only a few things you need to develop your black and white film at home. Against popular beliefs, you won’t need a darkroom, only a little bit of space and running water. The whole setup will cost around $100-$150, much less on the used market. In the long run you will save a lot of time & money developing your own film, not to mention full control over the quality of your negatives…

What you need – from left to right
1.) measuring cup (ideally one for each chemistry)
2.) storage bottles
3.) film developer, stop bath and fixer (brand of your choice)
4.) squegee
5.) darkroom thermometer
6.) developing tank & film reel
7.) small graduate
8.) funnel(s)
9.) scissors
10.) film retriever or can opener
11.) changing bag

now, let’s get started – you have exposed your b/w film and take it out of the camera… usually you would take it to the lab and anxiuosly wait a few days to get it from the lab. From now on you will get a hold of your black and white film within less than an hour or so.

First, you’ll want to retrieve the film leader out of of the film canister – old school shooters use can openers, I highly recommend a Hakuba film picker.

In order to load your film on the reel, you will need to cut off the narrow part of the

round the corners with scissors to make sure the film loads safely on the reel

It’s time to break out the changing bag – for the next few minutes, you’ll need the sensitivity of your fingertips only – yepp, basically you’re blind, everything is happening in the bag. Place your roll of film and the developing canister, including the lid, the film reel and the stem into the changing bag.

***film, canister and your hands are in the changing bag***

position the film in the first groove of the reel… I prefer to use the Jobo plastic reels

hold the film with your left thumb and advance with your right thumb, move forward until the whole roll of film is on the reel, rip the film off it’s spool and put the film canister aside (in the changing bag)

position the holder in the reel

place the loaded reel and stem into the developing tank

finally it’s time to get out of the sweaty changing bag – close the developing tank tight and take it out of the bag.

*** we’re out of the changing bag ***

it’s time to get the chemicals up to spec, mix the developer, fixer and stop bath according to the manufacturer’s specifications (the old dogs have ’em prepared already :P). Get the temperature right – 68°F (20°C) is standard. At higher temperatures, more contrast and grain will develop.

1st pour the developer in the tank

Always agitate slowly. For right now, use the manufacturer’s developing time and agitate according to their recommendations. Later on, you might want to experiment with these times. Developing time controls the shadows and agitation controls grain and contrast. Different developers and film combinations give you a different look of your negatives. I prefer Kodak Tri-X as my standard film and develop it in Ilford DD-X @ ISO 400. For ISO 800 and 1600 I either use Ilford Microphen or Diafine, both are speed enhancing developers for push process.

Once the developing is done, you can dispose the developer – many developers are one-shot developers only, so they have to go after use. Some developers -like Diafine- can be used over and over, so that would go back in the bottle.
*repeat the process with the stop bath and the fixer (no pictures here)*

Wash your film under running water for 5-10 minutes, discard the water in the tank often.

an alternative method to save water: fill the tank with fresh water, invert 5 times, discard the water and fill the tank again with fresh water. Turn 10 times and discard, fill again and turn 20 times, one final wash. This process takes less time and saves gallons of water.

Take the reel out of the canister and spool your film off the reel, soak it for a few seconds in water with a drop of dishwashing liquid. Some people use Hypoclear, which does the same thing – both prevent water stains on the negative.

Wipe the water residue off your negative strip with a film squeegee

Hang your film on a line in a dust-free room (the shower is a good place – close the curtain) and let it dry for some time. Use a clip at the bottom as well, to prevent curling of your film.

After the film is dry, cut it in strips of 5 or 6 negatives and store it in archival sleeves. The negatives are ready for printing or scanning.

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