Archive for category Photo Technique

RAW vs JPEG – Usability

RAW versus JPEG. Which should I use? This is a very interesting and delicate subject involving many aspects! First of all I must say that I think that there is no doubt about the fact that a RAW file is superior – information-wise – compared to a JPEG! It is lossless, has more information per pixel (more bits/pixel), … etc. There are drawbacks also: very large files (25-30MB/picture for Canon EOS 550D), always having to postprocess…etc. There is also no doubt that you get the greatest abilities to adjust your picture with a RAW file. I have had this question for a long loong time and now is the time to finally try to get it resolved:

Is  there much to be gained from using RAW for an ordinary photographer – like myself?

Are there BIG advantages – for me? Or is it more like carrying two spare wheels for a car? Something that could be of use – but only “once in a blue moon”? Is RAW something I ought to use? Is it worth the hassle, time and space? If I pay good money for a DSLR or a premium compact am I throwing away good money by not going RAW?

I will try to stay out of the technicalities – as this post is really about usability for a normal everyday photographer – with some slight ambitions! (That is like myself! 😉 ) I want some time over for other things as well! This is not for pixel-peepers – but we will peep at pixels now and then to get at the answer! My idea for this post is to find out how close I can get with RAW and JPEG. I will be trying to get the same – or close to the same – results from post-processing both RAW and JPEG – and then comparing the result to see if it can be accepted by someone like me – an ordinary everyday photographer  – with some slight ambitions! In ordinary everyday photography with ordinary everyday camera settings will I get enough room and flexibility to handle the ordinary everyday photo situations – if I go the JPEG way?

As most photographers – especially those with compact cameras – uses JPEGs all the time the answer should be given already: JPEGs are good enough! (Or at least a good compromise.) But I want to find out how much I lose out by going JPEG – or could I actually gain something when considering more factors…?

Summer is quickly approaching here in Sweden and it’s beginning to look and feel wonderful! I am saying this so you will understand why this task might take some time before reaching an answer. While on this journey to find the answer – my answer – I would very much appreciate your input and ideas on what to look for and what to compare!

The Formats

RAW is really many different file formats – specific for most cameras or camera brands Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc … – containing more or less unprocessed info directly from the camera image sensor – and need a special program (or a plug-in to your favorite image software) for your computer to process. Software and/or plugin are usually included with the camera when you buy it. It is sort of a “digital negative” – which you then process – in your computer – into a JPEG or several with different settings. The fact that each RAW format is a manufacturer specific format does raise some (small?) concern in me about the usability over time…

JPEG or JPG files are standardized picture files (JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group) that can be viewed, processed and printed with all (?) image software! Not that all standards survive over time but still it is calming to know JPEG is a proper standard so (almost) any type of software with image support will open a JPEG-image – hopefully for many years to come! These JPEGs are created in-camera by the cameras image processor. The process in the camera can usually be adjusted in a few ways: White balance, Contrast, lightness, saturation, sharpness, etc … and also in more general terms like for portrait, landscape, neutral, vivid, vintage … etc.

The Variables

The are quite a few factors/variables that influence the look and quality of pictures and to even contemplate evaluating them all is quite mind-boggling! It gets even worse when trying to weigh in such things as time spent processing, flexibility, storage space, fun(!), etc.. I would have to limit myself to just a few of all the factors – but I am open to suggestions as to which! Hopefully this journey will help me to decide what really matters – at least to me!  Hope you will tag along and find your own set of what you believe are the most important factors! The following are a few of the different variables to compare: Exposure, Dynamic range, Colour saturation, White balance, Sharpness, Contrast and Noise…

The Photo Mission

I set out with my trusty Canon EOS 550D/Rebel T2i to take a bunch of pictures like any tourist (with some slight photographic ambitions) would do. I set the camera for saving both RAW and JPG. The plan was to let the camera do its automatic “magic” so I set it up for what pictures I like to get out of the camera: one notch up on contrast, saturation and sharpness! I know from comparing the different Canon picture settings that “Neutral” actually gives quite good likeness to the original – but  rather soft picture – that I would not be satisfied with but that I always would have to post process. “Standard” is my most used setting + every now and then I use “Landscape” settings. Sometimes throwing in a “Portrait” or two. I have tooled with the idea of creating a RAW to JPG processing of my own and download it to the camera. (The Canon EOS 550D/Rebel T2i allows you to do this – giving you access to loads of settings!) The more I think about it the more I wonder why I haven’t…!

The Tools

The software I will be using is Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, Adobe Photoshop Elements and IrfanView. I am also using a 24″ 1920×1200 pixel Dell UltraSharp U2410 display.

The fine print:
The above was a lot of technical stuff – don’t be scared of it because my intention is to mostly use my eyes to make up my mind and include samples so you can use your eyes and make up your mind! I will of course give you my opinions of how the pictures should look! The reason why I stress that you make up your mind is because as we all know taste and liking is not universal! You might like a different look on your pictures and because of that you will have samples to look at so that you can make up your mind! Hopefully we can all arrive at a good understanding of this tricky question!

I will update this posting to contain the complete article as I go along!

Till next time!

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Canon PowerShot S95 – Depth of Field

The distance from the closest to the most distant part of a motif that is sharp is called Depth of field (DOF). DOF affects all pictures – sometimes you want DOF to be shallow to bring out and concentrate the interest on your sharply focused main motif while the background is blurred … other times you want sharpness from close up and all the way to infinity – with a really deep DOF! This post is both a general post on DOF but it also contains specific samples that relates to the Canon PowerShot S95!

All cameras with a small sensor – and a correspondingly short focal length on the zoom lens – has a depth of field (DOF) that is quite deep! This applies also to the Canon S95 with its 6-22.5 mm zoom lens. For a DSLR with a bigger sensor it is a little more varied – but usually the DOF is more shallow.  This can be both good and bad – depending on how you want your picture to turn out!
(The picture above is taken with Canon EOS 550D 18 mm and f 11.0 – to get a deep DOF. Not shown full size.)

The DOF is affected by three things:

  • Focal length
    The shorter focal length (you might like to think of it as wider angle) the deeper DOF and (it follows) the longer focal length the narrower DOF.
  • Aperture
    The smaller the aperture (that is bigger f-value) the deeper DOF and larger the aperture  the narrower DOF. You really need a large aperture to get a nice blur!
    One complication with most zoom lenses is that they vary the aperture as you vary the focal length!
  • Distance to the motif
    The more distant you are to the motif the deeper DOF and the closer you are the narrower DOF

All of the above factors are combined so that:
The deepest DOF you will get when you are using a very short focal length, a small aperture and are very distant to your motif!
The most shallow DOF you will get when you are using a very long focal length, a large aperture and are very close to your motif!

Depth of Field diagrams

To keep things reasonably simple I will look only at the extreme values: widest angle and most tele – with biggest and smallest aperture. Moreover I have limited it to two focus points at 1 and 6 meters.These 8 cases I have plotted in a DOF Diagram for the Canon S95 – and as a comparison I have included a DOF Diagram for the Canon EOS 550D 18-55 mm  . The two top rows are showing the tele results and the three bottom rows showing wide angle. The small black marker on top of each bar is the focus point (1 or 6 m) and you can see how the DOF spreads out around it (the green/violet bars). Note that as you goes towards smaller apertures the DOF behind the focus point increases a lot!

Canon S95 DOF diagram. Looking only at the two most extreme combinations – for deepest and most shallow DOF:
Using wide-angle, f8.0 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  0.43 m – infinity. That is close to the deepest DOF you can get with the S95! Handy for landscape pictures or whenever you want everything to be sharp! Notice also that it does not matter that much if you focus on something 6 m away instead – you will still get almost as deep DOF of 0.7 m – infinity!

If you use the largest aperture (f2.0) you will still get a relatively deep DOF at a distance but it will get more shallow at 1 m.

Using the largest aperture with tele, f4.9 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  only 0.95 – 1.06 m. That is a reasonably shallow DOF! Handy for a portrait (face only) or where you want only the main motif to be sharp! Here it does matter a lot if you focus 6 m away instead – you will get a DOF of 4.5 m – 9 m! At around 6 m this works well for a full picture of a person and a few meters more will handle a whole group of people – who does not have to stand on a line either! You will get a blurred background – but (I am sorry to say) only slightly blurred.

If you use the smallest aperture (f8.0) you will still get almost as shallow DOF at 1 m but at 6 m distance the DOF will increase a few meters! Note that the only way to accomplish a really blurry background is when you take pictures really close up … Also note that due to the fact that the aperture in the tele setting is f4.9 you will not get an extremely blurry background if your motif is a few meters distant!

Canon EOS 550D 18-55 mm DOF diagram. Also with its biggest and smallest aperture – BUT note that this lens has very different extreme values for its aperture!

Looking only at the two most extreme combinations – for deepest and most shallow DOF:
Using wide-angle, f22 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  0.43 m – infinity. (Same DOF as the S95 but with a very different aperture!)  Again that is close to the deepest DOF you can get with the wide-angle!

If you use the largest aperture (f3.5) you will still get a relatively deep DOF at a distance but it will get more shallow at 1 m.

Using the largest aperture with tele, f5.6 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  only 0.97 – 1.03 m. That is a very shallow DOF! To be used where you want only the (small)  main motif to be sharp! If you focus 6 m away instead – you will get a DOF of 5 m – 8 m!

Here it is a little easier to accomplish a really blurry background when you take pictures really close up … But note that 55 mm is not long enough to give a really blurry background at a distance! You will need 100-200 mm lens to accomplish this on a half-size sensor camera like the Canon EOS 550/Canon Digital Rebel T2i!

I have already said this (in the 3 points above) but want to stress that – for all lenses – as you move away from your motif the DOF increases (can be seen very clearly in the diagrams) giving you less and less blurry background. If you focus at 18 m you will with the S95 at the longest focal length and largest aperture (f4.9) have a DOF stretching from 9 m to infinity – not much hope for a blurry background there – but on the other hand you will get a picture where most of it is in focus – could also be handy sometimes…

Want to dive deeper into the shallow depth of DOF? 😉 Then go to Wikipedia for a much longer and much more detailed take on the subject with formulas, diagrams etc…

Three examples

Blurry background – Portrait or flower
You probably want a nice blurred background to make your motif stand out. Ask your motif to move away from the background (flowers – I am sorry to say – only moves when you want them to be still! 😉 ) – the further away from trees, houses etc the better! Then use your zoom at its maximum tele setting (if you have one of those super-zooms you don’t need to overdo it 🙂 ) and you step back from your motif – but only as far as is absolutely needed to get enough coverage of your motif! Make shure that the camera (or you) select as large aperture as possible!
(The picture on the left is taken with Canon EOS 550D 55 mm and f 5.6 (full open) – to get a shallow DOF. Cropped and shown half scale.)

Possible problems:
If you want blurry background when photographing a flower: On many compacts you can only use the “macro” setting with the wide-angle! Accept it (you might like it) – or try to go as close as possible with maximum tele setting – this is by far the best way to get a nice blurry background!
The whole picture turns out blurry? Then you have shaken the camera – hold it more still – get some support! Tree, rock, table or … maybe even a tripod! You can also get a totaly blurry picture if you have missed the focus completely!

Blurry background – Group of people
Assuming you want the whole group to be sharp – first of all you have to have them all at roughly the same distance! For blurry background you do the same as with the portrait or flower above: Position your group far away (at least 10-20 m) from the background! Use your largest aperture and as much tele as you can and then you walk away – but only as far away from your group as needed – until you get them all to fit in the picture (with the tele setting). The only special handling with a group is if they are not standing at exactly the same distance: focus on one of the nearest persons in the group. Assuming that the nearest and most distant person are not more than a meter or two apart you will get a sharp picture of the whole group and a somewhat blurry background. The longer tele lens you have the nearer on a “line” the group must stand – but the “blurrier” background you will have!

Sharp background – Person or group in front of Eiffel Tower
Or any other picture where you want the surroundings to be seen clearly. Here you probably want a deep DOF so that as much as possible can be seen clearly. First of all you move away from your foreground motif and use your wide-angle. To get maximum DOF you should also use the smallest possible aperture. But also take one picture with what f-value the camera suggests – it might be good enough.

Canon S95 DOF Samples

First of all I must disappoint all of you who is hoping to get a very blurry background in your portraits with the S95 – or any other small sensor short focal length lens cameras! It will not happen – even with a large aperture lens as the f 2.0 one on the S95! But as largest aperture at tele is just f4.9 you will only get a really blurry background when you use max tele in a very close up picture – that will not cover a view big enough for a proper portrait – but might work for a close-up of a flower for example. If you have a super-zoom you are luckier but will need to use the tele setting and hold the camera very very steady!

I have taken two series of pictures samples. You will see a variation of the DOF but it is so small it hardly is worth mentioning.

The first series in which I vary the focal length from 28 mm to 105 mm (equiv – in reality 6-22.5 mm ) and use the lowest possible f-value. This affects the perspective – more than it affects the DOF. The difficulty here is that the Canon lens is only f2.0  at the wide-angle end – and f4.9 at the tele end. So as I zoom to tele I also increase the f-value and thereby keep the DOF almost constant.

The second series I kept the focal length at a mid position and varied the f-value. Also very little variation of DOF!

As the DOF variation is so small I have just put up the extreme samples – but trust me – the intermediate pictures looks much the same! All pictures are taken with AWB – which handles the flourescent energy-saving lamps quite well! The hat sits 50 cm in front of the wall.

           

Looking at the above pictures you can easily see that for the Canon S95 the first picture has the most blurry background. This is due to two factors: I am closer to the motif and can use f 2.0  – this together affects the background most thus giving the most shallow DOF – even if I use the wide-angle! And a hat – contrary to a person – usually does not complain about certain features (like the brim) looking a bit wide! 😉

I will add a few extra samples with the motif further away from the background to illustrate how blurry you can get the background – as soon as the weather improves! (We have had the coldest winter for at least 150 years!)

If you want to have really seriously blurry background with an ordinary zoom compact – you have to fire up your favorite image software and get to work! Or get a super-zoom… If you on the other hand want to have a deeper DOF than you can get with your camera and lens combination – then you can combine several pictures with different focus into one picture with a lot of work in Photoshop or similar – or you cold just use CombineZP that automates the process.

Hope this throws some light on DOF for us photo amateurs!

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Panorama pictures

This post is about how you take and make panorama pictures or panoramic pictures with just a camera and software! I have been using Canon EOS 550D and Canon PowerShot S95 and Canon Ixus 860IS to illustrate how you go about it with a DSLR and a Point&Shoot but you could be using any camera! What’s more – it is quite easy! 🙂

The short story:  1  Take a number of overlapping pictures   2 Join (stitch) the panorama together using software!

The panorama picture above I took in Chania harbour in Crete, Greece. It took just a few seconds too shoot and resulted in a picture of close to 20 Mpixels. In this I actually used my first Canon Ixus 750 with 7 Mpixel resolution and that had a stitch assist mode. (Read here about what stitch assist mode is.)

If you look at the first row above – where all the separate pictures are shown – you will see that there is an overlap between each neighbouring picture of around 30%. That is: the same part of your motif appears in two neighbouring pictures! (See the illustration on the left – the grayed areas of the motif are the same in both neighbouring pictures!)  The amount of overlap is not critical – but if you have too little overlap the software that you use to stitch the pictures together might have problems finding common points! If you have too much overlap that just forces you take more pictures to get the coverage you want – that is ineffective but will probably not hurt! At the same time you will get more pictures that has to be stitched ==> giving more joins that might be seen! So my advice is try to keep the overlap at 30% (optimal) and not higher than 50%! Use the zoom to decide the how much of the motif you want to have height wise and let the number of pictures decide how much width you want.

To achieve this overlap take the first picture and then rotate the camera (in the Chania example above) to the right – but make sure to keep part of the first picture in the second one as well! Then you just repeat this over and over again till you have covered as much as you want. Maybe you are satisfied with just two pictures – or you might want to go the full 360 °.

In the illustration on the left you can see this! See the overlap of the pictures as three bars in the top of the illustration.  Take the first picture (green 1) then rotate the camera (according to the green arrow) – but only so much that you still have about 30% left of the 1:st picture. Take the next picture (lilac 2) then rotate the camera again – keeping 30% of the previous picture .  Take the next picture (orange 3). Repeat this for as long as you want!

Sweep Panorama
A lot of cameras this season has something called “Sweep Panorama” or something similar – in which you just press the shutter button, slowly sweep the camera sideways, release the button and then it automatically creates the panorama picture. As convenient and quick as this might be – and fun to see on the small 3″ display – as sad you will be at home on your 24″ computer screen – when you realize that what you got it is just a low resolution panorama! I don’t want to kill anyones joy about the “Sweep Panorama” – it certainly has its uses and it is fun! It is just that it is a low resolution panorama – but sometimes that is enough! This post is about creating – with minimal extra effort – beautiful high-resolution panoramas using any camera and separate software!


Also remember that taking panorama pictures does not have to be a wide&low or a high&narrow picture! You can take a matrix, say 2 rows of 3 pictures, to get a better resolution or just to get a wider picture in a cramped space  – where your widest angle lens or widest setting is not enough! I use it indoors quite a lot to fit the whole room in! (See sample above! And in case someone is worried about my reckless driving – taking a panorama picture on the go – I can calm you with that I had actually parked the car! 😉 )

Now the preamble is over – let’s  go on to the two easy steps to panorama pictures! YES! 🙂

For all three alternatives below – if you have an evenly lit motif – you can of course skip the steps concerning locking exposure to the most typically lit part of your motif and just start the sequence of at the first picture!

1. On location you do this

Five steps to beautiful panorama pictures using a
Point&shoot camera with stitch support:

  1. Select your panorama mode – on the Canon S95 it is called Stitch Assist and can be found as one of the scene modes.
  2. Look at your motif and decide which part of it is most typical – lighting wise.
  3. Halfpress the shutter button to lock exposure and white balance on that typical part of the motif.
  4. Reposition the camera to the most left or right part of your motif – and take picture no 1.
  5. Take the following pictures – making sure to line up the pictures according to the Stitch Assist.
  6. You are ready – on location!

Three steps to beautiful panorama pictures using a
Point&shoot camera without stitch support
 

  1. Assuming the motif is relatively evenly lit!
  2. Take picture no 1.
  3. Take the following pictures – making sure to overlap 30-40% with the previous picture.
    Also try to align the pictures vertically as best as you can.
  4. You are ready – on location!

If your camera has the ability to lock the exposure and the white balance you should do that to the most typical part of your motif. Actually you could follow the four step description below!

Four steps to beautiful panorama pictures using a
DSLR camera:
 

  1. Look at your motif and decide which part of it is most typical – lighting wise.
  2. Lock exposure and white balance on that typical part of the motif – and keep pushing the lock exposure button for all pictures! On the Canon EOS 550D it is the button marked with a “*“.
  3. Reposition the camera to the most left or right part of your motif – and take picture no 1.
  4. Take the following pictures – making sure to overlap 30-40% with the previous picture.
    Also try to align the pictures vertically as best as you can!
  5. You are ready – on location!

When I use my DSLR for panorama shots I usually do around 50% overlap – just because I find it is easier! Whatever is at the mid focus point I will move to the edge of the view finder and take the next picture – thus making it around 50% overlap. It would be even better to use the second focus points (the ones to the side of the middle) to give around 30% overlap. But as I said I find it easier to use the middle one – and the cost is just a few more pictures…!

Does the lens matter?
One question that I have got is if it matters what lens you have? Well, it affects the result but all lenses, wide-angle or normal or tele, can be used to take panorama pictures! With a wide-angle you can of course cover the same panorama area with fewer shots – but usually a wide-angle lens will not give as good result as a normal or tele lens because of straight lines being curved and vignetting (see below). The fact that you can use any lens, wide-angle or tele, means that you can use this to your advantage. With a wide-angle lens you will, as I just said, cover a bigger area with fewer pictures – to cover the same area in a tele setting you will have to take more pictures to cover the same area – probably layed out in a matrix – as I have shown in the illustration on the left. This also means MORE pixels and a sharper picture! This is actually how the Giga-pixel pictures are made! Remember to overlap!

Many zoom lenses will give a vignetting effect (darker corners) in its widest setting – this might be seen when you stitch the separate pictures together to a panorama picture. This is especially easy to spot in even same coloured areas like the sky but more difficult in uneven areas like trees or grass. (See sample at the left.) Do test this to see if your lens/camera suffers from this – you might think it is allright! If you find it disturbing you can avouid or lessen the vignetting by zooming in just a little, say from 28 mm to 35 mm (equiv). You can also increase the overlap a little so that you will not have to use the (darker) edges of the pictures. Some cameras even corrects this vignetting in-camera for many lenses.

2. On computer you do this

No matter which one of the three alternate ways above that you used you should now have at least 2 overlapping pictures! But you can have many more than 2 – you can have many hundred pictures!

You will need to join together these pictures using a special software! This is often called “stitching”. You probably got this type of software on the CD with your camera but there is also many other alternatives – both free and commercial. I was recommended the free Microsoft ICE software about a year ago – and it was so good that I have not used the software that Canon shipped with the cameras since then! 🙂  I will describe the joining/stitching process using Microsoft ICE.

The general process is soo simple! Just drop the pictures on the Microsoft ICE window – and the software will do the rest! The software will figure out how the pictures relate to each other – both sideways and up-downways (is it called that?). It will also figure out the camera motion – how the pictures were taken – if you were moving or turning the camera.

If you just have a few (2-5 pictures) the software will be ready in just a few seconds – presenting a joined together picture as the one above. The above one consists of 3 pictures. I will here assume that you are pleased with the result and want to save it as a JPG image of the largest possible size.

  • Zero – drop 2 or more pictures on ICE. It will automatically sort out how the pictures are related and join them up. (This you have just done!)
  • First you will have to get rid of the uneven edges – press “Automatic Crop” and a white rectangle will frame the picture just inside any uneven edges!
  • Second you will have to decide JPG quality. For now I recommend you let it stay at 80.
  • Third you will have to decide what size/scale you want the saved picture to have. I recommend to go with 100% – which means that all of your pixels will be used.
  • Fourth you press “Export…” and decide what name your panorama picture should have.
  • Ready! Open it with your favorite viewing software … IrfanView is a good one… 😉

The challenges

Generally the process is as simple as the one I described above – and the result is stunning! There are actually a few things to be aware of that can lessen the success of your panorama picture. Do read through the tricky points below so you are aware of them but do not let them worry you too much! Most of all: Do not let the it stop you from taking panorama pictures! 🙂

Bad alignment
This affects the picture in three ways: If you have bad alignment vertically the resulting panorama picture will be low – meaning that a lot of the top and bottom of the pictures will have to be cropped away to get even edges! If you do not have enough overlap – around 30% minimum – the software might have difficulty in joining together the pictures. If you have too much overlap – you will have to take many more pictures to get the coverage you wish. If you do not hold the camera horizontal or the resulting image might be crooked! (Thankfully, this can be corrected in ICE – see below!) Most of the time the software will succeed and you will get your panorama but it will be a little limited.

Moving objects
The Chania picture above has one very typical challenge when you take panoramas with water – waves! Any moving parts of the motif will be a challenge! It might be waves, trees, people, cars, … etc. (See sample below in the “Software Section!”) You can accept the flaw in the picture or you can maybe try again with better success … or you can use your favorite image editor to fix the picture. Waves are a real challenge! Wait for the waves to look similar at each picture you take. You will probably have to fix the resulting flaws in your favorite image editor. This is also true for the few/small flaws that you might see from the software join. One fun tip is to actually let a person appear several times in the resulting panorama picture – just ask the person to move into (preferably the middle of) each picture as you take it!

Differently exposed pictures
Microsoft ICE even out the differently exposed pictures before joining them together. It can do a lot but it is best that you try to keep the exposure similar. It is very easy with a compact camera with Stich Assist support – like the Canon S95 – because it will lock exposure when the first picture is taken. If you have DSLR like the Canon 550D it is also easy – just press the exposure lock button! Using a compact without stitch support and without exposure lock you have two alternatives: just take the pictures and let the software sort it out as well as it can – or lock exposure at the same point and reposition the camera for the first picture, lock exposure at the same point again and reposition for the second etc picture – this is OK for 2-3-4 pictures but becomes more and more tedious – but it is doable! (I would only do the second if I have a truly stunning view!)

Under this heading I have also put vignetting (dark corners) of pictures. Most lenses will show some vignetting at their widest angle – this can show up on the panorama picture as a darker band where one picture is joined with the next. Most of the time this effect is so small that you wont have to worry about it! In Canon EOS 550D this is even corrected for in-camera so you do not have to worry about it! MIcrosoft ICE handles some of this effect also. Most compact cameras do not do this – so in order to avoid vignetting – if your camera/lens is much affected – you can minimize the vignetting by zooming in just a little.

More functions

 We are now almost into advanced usage so I will not go through it fully but just mention that you can usually fix slanting or curved/crooked pictures and you can correct or even exaggerate the perspective by clicking the little 3D cube  on the toolbar! Move the mouse around over the gridlines and you will see several different alternatives to move and rotate the picture – click around and try things out!

Software

I thought I would mention something about the panorama/stitch software program that you can use to actually make the panorama picture itself. There are many different programs on the “market” both free and commercial ones. As always it is the requirements that will steer you to the right software for you! I want a software that will do most of the job automatically – with an advanced approach – and with a really good result! Preferably it would also allow me to make adjustments manually if I found it necessary! And it should also be free! I have above written about a few of the “challenges” to good panoramas. The program should – as much as possible – handle these “challenges”. It should leave as invisible joins as possible – giving me very little post processing to do! I have tried a few different programmes and they all have their strengths and their weaknesses

I have found only one – so far – that I think fills most of my requirements – Microsoft ICE – even if I would liked it to have more manual possibilities – to “help” it when it is faced with a difficult set of pictures! Many programmes are commercial and of those I have only used the ones that are included with Canon (PhotoStitch – an older version also as a free download) and Nikon (ArcSoft – a few years ago) cameras. Other programmes that are free have often very complex ways of using them – but at the same time some are often extremely flexible and adaptable – a good choice if you want to/need to tinker around manually a bit!

Just to mention a few of the other ones I have tried: Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher (amazingly good – if you need the flexibility and have the time to learn) , AutoStitch (automatic – a limited demo available) and Photoshop Elements (surprisingly basic in its approach). To be honest I have seen that developments have been made on several of these to simplify things so there might be a new contender for my liking but …

For over a year now I have not tried any other than Microsoft ICE software because – I simply have not seen the need! Also it handles the panorama “challenges” very well. I especially like its ability to really stitch the pictures together – not just blend them along a straight line – and to even out exposure and white balance between the pictures! The only drawback I have seen so far is that ICE only allows some limited manual control over the panorama creation – especially frustrating if it can not automatically join the pictures – and I know that I could help it along manually! Remember that no software is perfect all the time! In the few cases when ICE fails I usually use PhotoStitch – because it allows me to manually set the common control points – to at least get a panorama – even if the quality is not as high as with ICE. But I can not help even PhotoStitch by specifying where it should do the blending!

   

See the samples above from a busy street in Sacre Coeur, Paris on how Canon PhotoStitch and Microsoft ICE handles the tricky moving people challenge! Notice the half seen blended man in the middle of the PhotoStitch sample (the one on the left) – not so good! ICE (the one on the right) have put the stitching in somewhere else … but where? Taking into account that this is a really busy street with lots of moving people – the ICE result is perfect!

Print the best out at a good photo lab – panorama pictures are really on their own when printed out i big size!
Good luck with your panoramas!

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Sweep Panorama Mode

The Samsung WB2000 and many of this years crop of cameras has something they call “Sweep Panorama”. It works in similar ways on all of these cameras. On the WB2000 by going into the Scene-mode and selecting the panorama mode you will be able to use the very handy “Sweep Panorama” feature. You just point where to start (this locks the exposure and AWB) , press and keep the finger pressed and then just slowly sweep the camera either right, left, up or down. It will show you a bar that grows as you sweep the camera up till the maximum width. Then, when you let go of the shutter release button, the camera will automatically create the panorama picture! It is that easy!

The width of the picture depends on how wide arc you sweep the camera over and the height of the picture depends on how straight line you will move the camera in. Have you fluttered a little up and down during your sideways movement the camera will have to crop out a part of the height of the picture. With the tests I did on free hand (no tripod) the best that I got was 720 pixels in height on a standard sideways panorama but it can easily go below 600 pixels if you flutter too much! You can sweep it sideways in portrait mode and get a slightly higher resolution.

This is most certainly a fun and quite useful feature for some people! It is very easy to use and produces a panorama – as promised! BUT remember that the resolution is quite LOW and the stitching is not that great. Depending on motif and how smooth you move the camera you often get a number of “waves” in the pictures and also some “ghostly” artifacts! This is masked a little by the fact that the panoramas are relatively small so you won’t see these shortcomings too clearly – especially on the camera display! It definitely lands in the handy and funny but NOT high quality sector of features.  Is this of use for you? Depends on your requirements! I would use it every now and then – but  just for fun!

For me I would say that the low quality/resolution of the panorama piuctures from this “Sweep Panorama” mode  would normally have me going about it the usual way instead! I would take several overlapping 10 Mpixel pictures and stitch them together automatically in the computer afterwards with the free Microsoft ICE  panorama software – and get beautiful high resolution panoramas! The fact that the WB2000 can’t easily lock exposure and WB complicates matters slightly – either I repeatedly lock exposure and WB at the same point (shutter release halfway) and reposition the camera for each new picture in the series or I use manual settings … or I just let Microsoft ICE sort it out!

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