How do camera sensors work?This question is not about sensor size (light wavelength) or the quality of the glass.

The question is about what happens between the light entering the sensors and getting that data out of the sensor hardware. Namely:

– if a camera is 8M pixel, and assuming 8 bit per colours 8M*3=22.89MB, it would mean almost 23MB of data.

– if it’s capturing at 1080 and 30fps, it would mean 1920*1080*3*30=178MB/sec

– if it’s a system like the GoPro, that captures the whole sensor (12MP) and then downscales to 1080, how can it capture 1GB/sec of data?

– is there any hardware inside the sensor that does downscaling (e.g. reducing the 1GB to the 178MB), or providing the RGB to YUV, so it will transmit 10 or 12 bits instead of the 24 bit per colour?

– who exactly does the sweeping of each pixel? Is there a double buffer on the sensor, or is it the host doing it? This question is about the effect that I don’t know exactly the english name, but the one that happens when one is taking a photo on a moving car, on the window, and the picture becomes diagonal. The point is that the faster something sweeps the sensor, the less this bad effect happens.
The overall objective is to understand the quality of a sensor within a whole product, and be able to factually distinguish a good photo from a less good one, not only by the sensor size, the glass quality, or the CPU capacity to compress the JPEG or MPEG video, but just the bandwidth between the pixels and before the buffer on the main CPU and memory.
Update: if possible, comparing the three (for me) main groups of cameras – smartphones (ARM power), dedicated ARM devices like the GoPro, and fully dedicated hardware like DSLRs

Dave Haynie, Electrical engineer and part-time mad scientist

Written 31 Oct 2014

Ok… I’m starting a bit lower level than some of the others. A camera sensor is composed of electronic light sensitive elements of some kind. There are a bunch of different light sensitive components that have been invented over the years, but modern sensors pretty much all use photodiodes. 
A diode is a component that normally works like a one-way switch — electricity can go through it one way, but not the other. But there are a bunch of specialized diodes that use the basic properties in novel ways.. some can act as voltage references, some can put out light (LEDs… I’m lighting my house with these), some can act like variable capacitors. And some will pass current proportionally to the number of photons hitting the sensor. In fact, for every photon that hits a photodiode, one electron is transferred. 
So now that you have the photodiode, you make a sensor by building a big array of these photodiodes. If you dig into camera documentation, you can usually find the size of a “pixel”, which isn’t really the size of a pixel at all, but the size of a photosite. The photosite contains the photodiode, and that’s the only photo sensitive element, but it may also contain other stuff, like the electronics that drive the photodiodes. So like a human eye, you may have some stuff in the way, reducing the light actually reaching the photodiode. More recently, there are “back side illuminated” sensors, which put the photodiode on the back and the electronics on the front, more like the superior eye of the octopus. But either way, now you have an array of photo diodes… the sensor itself. 
Of course, that doesn’t do anything yet. There’s support electronics to power and manage all those photodiodes. At some point, there will be a programmable gain amplifier, like a volume control, that boosts the signal from the photodiode as necessary. The feeds an analog to digital converter. Most ADCs in cameras these days produce a 12 or 14-bit output. 
Now, let’s look at photodiodes themselves… they don’t know a thing about color, and they usually respond to a pretty wide spectrum. If you wanted a monochrome camera, you might be ok with the sensor as is, maybe with an infrared filter on it to prevent IR light from being recorded. But you want color. So in most sensors, there’s an array of color filters, one per photodiode… you’ve seen the discussion of Bayer sensors in this article already. Some companies use “non-Bayer” sensors, in that they’re using a matrix that’s other than RGBG… Canon used CMYG in some early cameras. Fujitsu and Sony have used some alternate color configurations. Panasonic has a technology that’s using micro-color-splitters rather than color filters, to avoid loss. See, a perfect spectral filter will cut out 66% of the light going to each photodiode. To avoid this, professional video cameras with small sensors actually use three sensors and a diachroic prism, to split light into separate R, G, and B beams to separate R, G, and B sensors. Along with the filter, most sensors also have a micro-lens array, to focus light on the photodiode and hopefully get around the fact that the photo sensor isn’t the whole photo site. 
Ok, so there’s a sensor. It’s controlled by a microprocessor, which can control when it’s collecting light, when it’s not, etc. Some cameras use that function to set the exposure, but more professional models use a separate electronic shutter to make the exposure. It’s possible you’ll actually get two exposures for every one you take. Like all electronics, photodiodes have a “dark current”… basically, there’s energy in the system due to heat… that’s also where noise in a low-light photo comes from. The camera may shoot a totally dark photo, then the one you’re after with light and everything, and use that first to establish “zero” for each pixel. 
Once exposed, the microprocessor will read the sensor’s data. Older CCDs were basically a gigantic bucket brigade, where only one pixel was read at a time, but these days, most sensors have multiple access lines and can read very fast. The data that comes directly off the sensor, with all that weird filtering that may be very specific to only that one camera… that’s what the camera will record in a raw file. And as I mentioned, pixels are usually 12 or 14 bits of resolution… that’s one reason professionals like raw… not only is it not compressed like a JPEG, but it has absolutely all of the information the camera recorded. 
As you pointed out, that may be a great deal of data, especially if you’re doing video. But the processors and interfaces are designed specifically for that kind of data. If I have a 20Mpixel camera, I’m probably reading 30-35 MB per photo from the sensor. And if I can shoot 10fps, that’s 300-350MB/s that I’d have to store, writing raw files. That might not actually happen. Now of course, 300MB/s is nothing for a fast interface… PCI Express runs at 10Gb/s these days (over 1GB/s) per link (four wires… you could use this in an embedded product… in fact, I do, though nothing quite as integrated as a modern camera). But when you shoot a photo, it’s getting some compression (lossless with raw, way more with JPEG), and then it’s going into a large, fast RAM buffer in the camera, queuing up for a write to flash memory. 
And the process is identical for every camera. Sure, some don’t shoot stills, some don’t shoot video, some don’t record raw, same may only record raw, but the things that happen are the same for GoPro as for a DSLR as for a P&S as for a cinema cameras. 
Now, of course, if I shoot video at, say, 1080p60, that’s quite a bit of data, too. But not as much as you think. Even with that 20Mpixel sensor, I’m never going to store 20Mpixel. Some cameras can “line skip”… the only need to read out part of an image. Then, the on-camera microprocessor (which is also a photo/video image processor) will use a combination of software and dedicated hardware to crunch that image to the 2Mpixel you need for video, then compress it for a write to your flash card: to Motion JPEG, to AVC-Intra (kind of the MJPEG of the early 21rst century), or full IPB AVC, or something else. At that point, the video is shrunk substantially, to 25, 50, 100Mb/s or so. SD cards are fast enough. 
Let’s take a full frame image, a 20Mpixel shot, and see what happens when you make it a JPEG. Ok, so as mentioned, you don’t have 20,000,000 RGB pixels, you have a raw image with 5,000,000 red, 10,000,000 green, and 5,000,000 blue pixels. You know why we do this… photodiodes don’t see color. But why don’t we usually care? Because of the human eye… we have 120,000,000 or so sensors in the eye that see luminance, and only about 6,000,000 that see color. So all kinds of tricks get played with color you mere mortals every day. 
So this raw image — in the camera’s really fast RAM, is converted to an RGB image in a process sometimes called “de-Bayering”. In simple terms, you’re interpolating. Let’s take a red pixel… you know it’s red value. But you’ll also find it’s surrounded by four green pixels (horizontally, vertically) and four blue pixels (on the diagonals). There’s a pretty good chance that the green at your current pixel is similar to all of its neighbors… so you interpolate… take the average of the neighbors colors. And thus get your G and B colors to make a full color pixel. 
That could now be a 36 or 42 bit pixel, but heading for video or JPEG, we’re now going to knock this down to 24-bits per pixel. So that’s done.. but then, while we’re at it, we’ll mess with color even more. Rather than store an RGB pixel, the image processor will convert to a color space called YCrCb, which is a lossless transform from RGB color space. Now that we’re in YCrCb color space, we’re going to toss out 3/4 of the chroma samples. Basically, that means that we’re going to keep 20,000,000 Y samples, but . This is called chroma subsampling, and both JPEG and the most common video compressions employ 4:2:0 subsampling, if you’d like to learn more. What this means is that per pixel line, we’re only storing 1/2 as many samples, and either Cr or Cb per line, not both. So that translates to only 5,000,000 Cr and 5,000,000 Cb samples per shot. So without actually getting to JPEG, we took a 60MB RGB image and converted it to a 30MB YCrCb 4:2:0 image. 
Next comes the actual JPEG compression. JPEG breaks the image up into 8×8 blocks of pixels. Then it runs a reversible transform called the Discrete Cosine Transform, which takes the spatial data of each 64-pixel cell and converts it to frequency information. Various rule are then employed to cut out some of the higher frequency information from each cell. After all cells are so reduced, the result is Huffmann encoded, a lossless compression. It’s the filtering of the high frequency information and the 4:2:0 subsampling that makes JPEG lossy. And you’ve probably come across different “strengths” of JPEG… smaller files or “finer” image. That controls just how the high frequency information is discarded. 
For video, an AVC-Intra video is basically the same idea, only employing AVC innovations like variable block size, more modern lossless compression, etc. But it’s literally a bunch of single JPEG-like frames. 
When you go to IPB AVC, that’s a different story. “I” means “Independent” frame, which is again going to a JPEG-like still image. This is also called a key frame. The encoder makes an I-Frame, then it make another I-Frame. Only, it doesn’t encode that I-Frame… it does a bunch of sophisticated analysis of the difference between the two frames, using motion estimation algoriths.. the goal being that a small set of motion vectors, applied to that first I-Frame image, should produce something very similar to the second one. So that’s done, and a difference frame is made between the real second frame and the one calculated from the first frame. That’s the “error”, usually lots of black with very little bits of ghosty pixel… that compresses extremely well. So that second frame becomes a “P” frame, for “Predictive”, which encodes a compacts set of vectors and a very small error frame, also stored as a very compressed JPEG-like things. If you’re able to analyze many frames at once, you can also have “B” frames, for “Bidirectional”… a B-Frame can be predicted from both the proceeding and following frame. 
In old fashioned MPEG-2, you had one I-Frame for every 15 total frames. In AVC, it’s technically possible to have hundreds of P or B frames between every I frame, but that would be a pretty unusual situation. 
Well, probably enough to chew on right now.



photographing snow

Nick’s Photography Tips: 13 tips for photographing snow

by Nick Kelsh

posted Saturday, December 27, 2014 at 9:49 AM EST

The difference between snow that is actually in the air and falling and snow that’s on the ground is huge. When the snow is coming down, drop everything, grab your camera, and go shoot some pictures.

If there were only one country in the world that had rain, wind, clouds, or fall color it would have the number one tourist numbers in the world. But the marque event would be snow; there’s nothing like it. A brown, gray world becomes gleaming white in a matter of hours. Miraculous! No wonder it’s a photographers dream come true. It is not without, however, things to consider.

1. Use a relatively fast shutter speed for falling snow. If you really want those big juicy snowflakes to show up they need to be frozen – no pun intended – with a relatively fast shutter speed. 1/250th of a second is a good place to start.

Falling snow is moving faster than you think and you need to use the appropriate shutter speed if you want to capture those beautiful flakes as sharp white specks. If the shutter speed is too long the snow will blur itself into foggy streaks. (See more about photographing falling snow here.)

Big puffy snowflakes fall slower than their little icy cousins, but generally speaking you need a shutter speed of 250th to 500th of a second if you want to freeze—no pun intended—those flakes in mid-air. As the shutter speed gets longer things start to turn to mush. The larger out-of-focus blobs in the first example (500th) are flakes that are inches away from the camera. There’s nothing you can do about those. Hope to get lucky so they don’t obscure something key like facial features.

2. Your odds of success are probably much greater when it’s a cloudy snow day than a bright sunny snow day. Things can get contrasty and harsh and difficult to expose for on a bright snowy day.

3. Exposing for snow is counter-intuitive. You need to OVEREXPOSE for snow. (How is that possible? It’s so bright!) Light meters want to make everything medium bright and you want the snow in your pictures to be beautiful white. If you’re an automatic exposure, you need to brighten up the exposure using your exposure compensation button. You probably want to increase the exposure – that’s a plus on the scale – about 1/1/2 or two f-stops. (Don’t worry, you are not alone.—this makes no sense to many amateur photographers.)

It’s not uncommon for amateur photographers to come away from a snow day with pictures too dark – like the one on top. Whether you are using your light meter manually or if you are in automatic exposure you need to make the picture brighter. In automatic exposure you would use your “exposure compensation” button to do that. In this case, the picture on bottom is about two f-stops brighter than the one on top. Photo by Rose Hinman.

4. Wearing the right gloves or mittens is important for anyone taking pictures outside in the wintertime. The mittens with removable fingertips to allow your fingers to adjust your settings are the perfect solution. But at the very least, use gloves and mittens that are easy to take off and on so you can fuss with the buttons. Yes, it’s annoying. Do your best to get your settings right before you get outside so you don’t have to freeze your fingertips.

An overall of a snow scene really needs something for the eye to gravitate towards – even if it’s something as simple as two people walking by.

5. Snow is gorgeous in black and white. There’s often little to be gained by snow pictures in color.

On the other hand…

6. Something red in a snow scene is gorgeous, too. Think Courier and Ives here.

7. A walk in the woods alone at 7 AM after a fresh snowfall is a religious experience. Even if you don’t take any good photographs – which is highly unlikely – it will leave you spiritually enlightened. Get your hiking clothes together the night before if the forecast is for snow.

8. If you’re going to photograph a snow landscape don’t walk in it first. (It’s an amateur mistake, for sure, and trust me, I’ve done it many times.) It’s true that the footprints you leave in the snow may be an interesting photo subject, but once they are there, there is no going back to a pristine, fresh snowfall.

9. The Holy Grail of snowfall photos is a close-up of a snowflake—difficult to do and well worth it. You need a single lens reflex camera with a lens that can focus really really close. That probably means you will be using an extension tube – a relatively inexpensive tube that goes between your lens and the camera allowing it to focus ultra-close. Then, you need to get lucky. The weather and temperature need to be perfectly aligned so that perfectly formed unbroken snowflakes can land on the piece of black cloth you provide for them. A dark wool sweater is perfect. Tons of experimentation required, but like I said, worth it.

10. Depending on your editing skills, snow is quite user-friendly for photographing people individually and combining them later—that white background is very forgiving. That’s how I put my two squirmy kids in one photograph a couple of years ago. I did my best to get a good shot of each of them individually – in the soft light of an active snowfall – and then put the two pictures together in Photoshop Elements for the family Christmas card. the blank space of the snow was also a great place to put words in typography on the card.

11. People shoveling snow can be great photos. Dad running the snowblower is always going to be a family classic.

12. And as you can see (above and below) taking snow pictures at night is easier than you would think. You may have to turn up your ISO, but street lights bouncing off of fresh snow are actually quite bright. A dark sky against the new snowfall is beautiful. And the whole thing just oozes with mood.

13. Make hay when the snow falls. When you wake up one morning and look out the window and the snow is perfect it’s time to take pictures. Don’t take a shower, don’t brush your teeth—you cannot hesitate. The situation is going to rapidly change. Wind will quickly destroy the look of a beautiful tree covered with snow. Footprints are quickly going to ruin that pristine layer of white. It all changes very quickly. Photographers need to be the first people out of their doors when the snow falls.

On a sunny day, snow that is in the shade reflects the overhead blue sky.

If you appreciated this article and want to do even more to improve your photography, sign up for one of Nick’s courses now!


Once the battery is charged up and you’ve attached a lens you’ll want to start with the EVF/LCD settings you’d like.  The way the camera comes is the scene will be in your EVF and the LCD will be your Super Control Panel that you can access by pressing the OK button.  This is odd because the LCD is able to accept touch input in any other setting so if you’re wondering why the LCD isn’t recognizing your nubs then mystery solved.

(Read below for the HDR instructions…  Finally!)
(Want to know what the best lenses are for the EM1?  Check out the list here.)

Change LCD View

Most people like having their EVF (electronic view finder) and LCD Screen switch back and forth between scene preview depending on where their eye is (if they get close to the viewfinder then the preview switches to the EVF and when they pull away it goes back to the LCD).  You can achieve this by pressing the little button to the left of the viewfinder.

Enable Super Control Panel Over LCD Live View

Olympus ships the camera to you set to pull up the Live Control menu when you press the OK button while using Live View.  The Live Super Control Panel is much better and puts all the crucial controls right at your finger tips (literally).  To enable this option here is what you do:

Menu – Custom Menu – D – Control Settings – Choose the Exposure Mode You’ll Be Using (I choose P/A/S/M) – Press the OK button on the Box Next to Live SCP

Now when you press the OK button while the Live View is on the LCD it will bring up the Super Control Panel (if you left the Live Control menu checked in the settings then it will be the first one that shows up, just press the INFO button and your Super Control Panel should show up.

Turn Off Proximity Sensor

The proximity sensor is what tells the camera to move the Live View from the LCD screen to the EVF when your mug gets close to the viewfinder.  This is all well and good until you try to show your friends some of the awesome shots you got and every time you put your potato wedge fingers close to the screen it triggers the sensor and the screen goes dark because it thinks your face is close.  Alternatively, if you leave your camera on while strapped around your neck the camera will think your face is close and keep the Live View on in the viewfinder burning up precious battery juice.  To turn off the proximity sensor do this:

Press and hold the little button next to the viewfinder – Select Off

Customize The Buttons and Dials

Whenever I use a new camera the first thing I like to do is make it mine by customizing every button and dial to suit my workflow.  With the EM1 you’ll quickly realize there are enough programmable buttons in strategic places that you’ll rarely have to dig into the cameras menu.

To change the button designations here is what you’ll do:

Menu – Custom Menu – B – Choose the Button You’d Like to Customize

Once in the you’ve accessed custom menu B you’ll notice about 10 different buttons on the EM1 you can customize as well as what function is currently assigned to them.  I can’t tell you how to set yours up (we all like things our own way) but I will say the first thing I did was set the Fn2 button to my ISO selector for ease of use (I’m not a fan of auto ISO).

Customizing the dials works the same way and can be found in the same menu.  I like the way the dials are set up as is so I don’t have any recommendations for alternate settings.

Image Quality Control

This section is for those of you that like to shoot using the JPEG format rather than RAW.  If you shoot 100% in RAW then you can disregard this section for the most part.

Turn Warm Cast in Auto White Balance Off (recommended)

The first thing I noticed when using the EM1 was the warm cast auto W/B gave my images.  You really notice this when photographing things like red flowers that will end up looking over saturated.  If you’d like to turn off the warm cast you can do so like this:

Menu – Custom Menu – G – Scroll Down To Keep Warm Color – Select Off – Press OK

Auto ISO Adjustments

One of the great things the EM1 has going for it (there are many) is the 5 axis image stabilization that allows you to hand shoot scenes at slower shutter speeds than you’d have been comfortable with any other camera.  With that being said, you will still find times where you need to bump the ISO up to keep shutter speeds from dropping below what the 5 axis stabilization can compensate for.  The EM1 handles up to ISO 6400 really well from my initial testing.  Auto ISO comes preset with a ceiling of 1600.  Here is how you adjust the presets:

Menu – Custom Menu – E – ISO Auto Set – Choose the Highest You’d Like to Go (I use 4000 but I don’t really use auto ISO… ever)

Selecting the Best Quality JPEG File Type

Olympus gives us a bunch of options for the quality of JPEG we’d like to use.  My opinion is I didn’t spend $1,400 for a camera to take small compressed images with.  If you feel the same way and would like the absolute highest quality JPEG images from the EM1 then you’ll need to follow these two steps:

1.) Menu – Custom Menu – G – Select the First Option that Says Set – Under the Number 1 Change the box next to L to SF


2.)  Menu – Shooting Menu 1 – Select the Fourth Icon Down – Still Picture – Choose L SF – Press OK

(L SF stands for Large Super Fine and refers to the size of the JPEG as well as the amount of compression, SF has the least amount of compression of all the JPEGs)

Noise Reduction

If you don’t do a lot of post processing then I would probably recommend leaving the cameras noise presets as they are.  If, on the other hand, you like to have a bit more control of the final image then I would recommend adjusting the Noise Filter to Low.  This is how:

Menu – Custom Menu – E – Noise Filter – Low (or off)

Turn Off Image Stabilization for Tripod Mounting

It’s a good idea to turn off image stabilization while the camera is mounted on a tripod because the act of trying to stabilize the camera can actually introduce micro shake to the camera while it’s mounted.  Here is how to do that:

Menu – Shooting Menu 2 – Image Stabilizer – Still Picture – Off

Image Sharpening

If you decide to turn the noise filter down to low or off you may want to reduce the amount of sharpening as well, this is personal preference.  Here is how:

Access the Super Control Panel by Pressing OK – Select the Icon that Has an S and a + – Sign on Top of Each Other – Select -1

WiFi Settings – Pairing Camera to Smart Phone

One of the new, much appreciated, additions to the EM1 that the EM5 was lacking is the addition of WiFi.  You can now easily pair your smart phone to the EM1 by using the Olympus Image Share app for AndroidiPhone, iPad, and the iPod touch and control most of your cameras manual settings.  Here is what you do to pair your phone:


Open App Store – Search for the Olympus Image Share App and Download it – Open the App and Press the Use Now Button – Line up the Square Outline with the QR Code on Your Camera – Close the App after You’ve Downloaded the Package (it will have EM1 and a bunch of numbers in it) – Go to WiFi Settings on Your Phone and Select the WiFi Network that Matches the Package Name You Downloaded – Once Connected Open the Olympus Image Share App Again – Select Remote Control


Menu – Playback Menu – Connection to Smartphone – Scan Code With Smart Device

If you are not planning on using the WiFi setting you can turn it off and possibly preserve a little battery power by doing this:

Menu – Setup Menu – WiFi Settings – Off

Time-Lapse User Guide

To set up the time-lapse function do this:

Menu – Shooting Menu 2 – Time lapse settings – You can either turn it on and press enter or select on and hit the right arrow to change the settings

If you decide to change the settings you’ll find Frames (the number of shots you want your time-lapse to consist of), Start Waiting time (a timer that tells your camera when to begin the time-lapse), Interval time (the amount of time between each shot), and time-lapse movie (on will compile the shots into a movie at the end).

Once you’ve got the time-lapse up and running you can hit the menu button mid time-lapse and it will cancel the process… if you’re impatient.  Enjoy!

Note:  If you will be doing time-lapse photography for extensive periods of time and need extra power you have two options, either the HLD – 7 battery grip or the optional power cord (AC adapter AC-3).

HDR User Guide

You’ve got a couple of options with HDR, you can either have the camera exposure bracket a few images and combine them manually in post processing (recommended) or you can have the camera do it for you.  The image you see in the viewfinder will differ from the final processed image so don’t worry if you don’t notice a difference when you are framing.

HDR1/HDR2 For Those Who Don’t Want To Combine In Post Processing

The first two options with the HDR button are HDR 1 or HDR 2.  The only difference as explained by the Olympus manual is that HDR 2 provides a more “impressive” image.  Again, for those of you that shoot HDR frequently I would still recommend not combining them in camera, you can get a lot more impressive photos if you take the time to do this in post processing.

When using HDR mode the slowest shutter speed you can use is 1 second and the longest available will be four seconds.  The camera will also set the ISO to a fixed ISO of 100 (use a tripod).

Settings To Use If You Will Be Combining The Images Yourself (recommended)

Here are your bracketing options:

Here is how to shoot HDR:

Set the lever affixed to the HDR button to 1 – then press the HDR button (this will display the options) – Choose HDR 2 (as an example) – You can view the processed image in playback mode.

The HDR settings are fairly expansive and will cover a vast majority of situations out there however there are a few limitations.  The first person to point this out was Michael Myerscough (his website).  Thanks Michael.

I’ve been experimenting with it and combing the manual and the best I appear to be able to do is switch to auto bracketing mode, set up a custom timer with the same amount of shots as brackets and we’re golden. The major issue is that I can only get 0 +/- 2 which as you no doubt are aware covers 90% of shots but not all. Generally I’d just adjust the exposure bias as a cheat to expand the range. That’s not the best as it involves touching the camera which I don’t like doing in the middle of a series of brackets. The major irritant is that in Olympus’s HDR settings they give access to a huge range of exposure steps which would nail any situation but you can’t do that with the internal timer. I’ve tried figuring it out with the remote software but it still won’t shoot the HDR. The best I can do it appears is set it up for the HDR brackets, push the shutter and it rips through let’s say 7 exposures in no time at all so long as I set the shutter to ‘sequential high’. In a perfect world Olympus would update the firmware so the custom timer is available with HDR ( as distinct from auto bracketing).

I hope you found this guide useful, check back to PhotolisticLife for the full review of the EM1 and the new Olympus M Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro Interchangeable Lens.  Enjoy!

There is also much more about the E-M1 that should be talked about. One thing I did not even touch on in my E-M5 review is “Live Time” which I believe was called “Live Bulb” on the E-M5. To activate live time, just go into Manual mode and twist the exposure dial all the way until you see “LIve Time”. Then you can set your aperture and ISO. For really long exposures of the night sky you could set your aperture to f/22 and ISO to base ISO. Press the shutter and then watch as your exposure develops like magic right in front of your eyes. When the exposure is where you want, press the shutter again. There is nothing like it from any other camera manufacturer. I previously showed some light painting we did in Ireland with the camera and the possibilities are endless:

Live Time in Action

In camera HDR mode

I am not a fan of HDR but there is no denying there has been quite an HDR movement in the past few years. MANY love it and while 99% of the time, in camera HDR is lousy, on the E-M1 it is not horrible. I would never use it but for those that like to dabble in HDR, the settings here make it as easy as taking a normal photo. The sample above was shot in HDR1 mode.

Reciprocity and Reciprocity Failure

Reciprocity and Reciprocity Failure – an Explanation

Reciprocity is the interchange of shutter speed and aperture. This rather posh word just means that a combination of a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second with an aperture of f8, which is referred to as an exposure setting of ‘1/125th at f8’, will give the same exposure to the film or digital sensor as 1/250th at f5.6, which is the same as 1/500th at f4 etc. This reciprocity works well, up to a point, but film users will find that, when you have very long exposure times, several seconds or so, the reciprocity breaks down and extra exposure time is necessary to compensate. This is known as reciprocity failure.

Reciprocity Failure (film users only)
All color films suffer from reciprocity failure when exposed for longer than a few seconds. This results in a color shift as the three layers of the film respond to a different degree. The exact color will depend on the brand of film you are using. The color cast can often be corrected at the printing stage so is not a major problem unless you are using slide film. The only real way to avoid the problem is to use a faster shutter speed, which will mean also using a larger aperture and sacrificing some depth of field. If you don’t understand the connection between aperture and depth of field read my article on shutter speeds and apertures.

Reciprocity failure will also be a problem with black and white film but in this case all that is required to put things right is to make an even longer exposure. How much extra you need to give is hard to tell, the best solution is to make several exposures at different times. After all your subject is not going to run away, if you are hoping to get a good shot of it with a two or three second exposure, it has to be something that is not going to move.

All you really need to be aware of is that if you are shooting night scenes for instance at very small apertures, you would be well advised to shoot a series of photos at varying exposures, this is called ‘bracketing’ and is a very useful technique even in these days of digital cameras and instant replay.

Good news for digital camera users
Reciprocity failure is not a problem with digital cameras, however noise can be.

Bad news for digital camera users
Long exposures on digital cameras can produce visible noise, which looks a bit like the grain you see in a fast film image. This noise or grain is usually most noticeable in plain areas of the picture. See my article on ISO Film Speed for some pictures and more information.


Diff Between m43 and DSLR

The 11 Key Differences Between the Micro 4/3 vs. the DSLR

Gear & Apps December 31st 2013 10:22 AM 27 Comments

The DSLR has been with us for quite a while now. It’s seen some innovations during its lifetime but for the most part, DSLR’s haven’t changed a great deal. Sensors have advanced, auto focus has gotten better and, of course, video was introduced in 2008 with the Nikon D90 –  the same year that Olympus and Panasonic introduced the Micro Four Thirds format.

Sony has pushed the envelope somewhat with their translucent mirror technology, creating quite a unique product, but its fundamentally the same design with slightly different technology under the hood.

Micro Four Thirds (m43 from here on) is a relatively new format, but has been at the absolute forefront of technology since it’s introduction and has carved its way through a seemingly impossible road to become a format that many consider equal to, and in some cases, better than the standard DSLR.

[REWIND: What Camera Should I Buy? The Ultimate Camera Purchasing Guide]

Let’s take a look below at some of the main differences between DSLR’s and Micro Four Third system cameras, and some of the main advantages and disadvantages for both.

1. Viewfinders

Some people swear by an optical viewfinder, the type found in a traditional DSLR, like the Canon 5D and the Nikon D800, whilst others enjoy the instant feedback from a EVF or electronic viewfinder. I have no doubt that the optical view finder will become the niche as technology creates better EVF’s with faster refresh rates and higher dynamic range. Some cameras even have both. As with optical viewfinders, not all EVF’s are built equal. The viewfinder found in cameras like the Sony A99 and Olympus OM-D EM-1, for example, are truly fantastic and are actually converting people from optical to electronic. They are that good.

evf_vs_ovfPin It

Top of the range EVF’s allow you to see things that the naked eye simply can’t. You can see into the dark. When you make adjustments to your camera settings, you can see them in real time, through the viewfinder. You can choose to have overlays on so you can see your histogram, amongst other things, whilst taking your photos. You can also see the picture immediately after taking it without taking your eye away from the camera. Great on sunny days. If you’re a fan of manual focusing, an EVF is your best friend too, as it allows you to magnify your view and very clearly see what you’re focusing on, all in real time.

fuji_vfPin ItAn optical viewfinder is very organic, it has a natural, familiar feel for some. An optical viewfinder on a full frame camera like the Nikon D800 gives you a 100% field of view and a much nicer experience than some entry level DSLRs. Some of these can feel like you’re looking through a tunnel sometimes. By their very nature, optical view finders cannot display the amount of information an EVF can, which you may prefer, but at least you can turn it off on an EVF. You cannot turn it on or off with an optical view finder.

2. Auto Focus

This used to be one of the biggest differences between a traditional DSLR and m43 system cameras, but it’s not as big as you might think anymore. A DSLR uses ‘Phase Detect Auto Focus’ whereas the latest m43 and mirror-less cameras are now using a combination of Phase Detect and Contrast Detect auto focus.

  • Phase-detect Autofocus uses a dedicated sensor that splits the light into two images and focuses them until the two images come together on the focus sensor. This sensor then measures how far apart the two images are, knows which direction to focus and is faster than contrast-detect auto focus.
  • Contrast-detect Autofocus uses the actual image sensor and tells the camera to keep changing focus until the contrast from one pixel to the next is the highest possible. The camera doesn’t know which way to focus, so it is generally slower and not well-suited for action photography, when the subject is moving in different directions. Contrast-detect can be more accurate than phase-detect, just a bit slower generally.

dslr_vs_lumixGPin It
With cameras like the Olympus OM-D EM-1, Panasonic GX7 and Fuji XE-2, you now get a combination of both. Each manufacturer implements this in their own way, but it effectively means we are now seeing auto focus on the higher end m43 cameras that can keep up with all but the most demanding of sports. For a professional sports photographer then, a DSLR is probably still the best choice, but there are other elements that also come into play too, portability and size being two of them.

Things like live view and face detect auto focus has generally been more capable on a m43 camera due to the way it uses contrast-detect based auto focus. The recently released Canon 70D DSLR though, put an end to this with it’s dual pixel auto focus system, which actually performs better than most m43 systems. Sony is also very good at live view auto focus due to it’s translucent mirror.

3. Size

Size and weight play a big part in choosing a DSLR or m43 camera. The m43 bodies are considerably smaller than a DSLR of equal quality. Carrying a backup is much less of a chore too, but it’s not just the size of the body but also the lenses. This is where the real differences can mount up. As an example, a 600mm telephoto lens for a DSLR is quite a specialist lens, it’s absolutely huge and takes some extreme dedication to carry around and actually use, requiring a large tripod.

dslr_vs_om-d_sizePin ItOn the flip side, both Olympus and Panasonic make a 300mm zoom which is the equivalent field of view as a 600mm on a full frame DSLR and you can fit this in your lunch box. It still takes proper technique to get the most out of it, but it’s a lens you could take with you anywhere..

You can carry a full selection of lenses and several m43 bodies in a very small bag, light weight and hassle free. Even if you buy a smaller APS-C size DSLR like the Canon Rebel line or Nikon D3200, for example, the lenses are still considerably larger and you are not gaining anything in image quality until you step up to a full frame sensor. If you do a lot of travel, a m43 system could fit the bill perfectly.

lens_comparisonPin It4. Lenses

Many consider the selection of lenses available for the m43 system to be among the very finest. From manual prime lenses to f2.8 pro zooms and everything in between, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something suitable.

Fast prime lenses are small and light weight for m43. Fast prime lenses for DSLR’s of equal quality are not light and are generally more expensive. However, they both produce fantastic images in the right hands. Let’s take a quick look at a typical prime lens kit a professional might use and the cost involved below (all prices are approx. and subject to change):

price-comparison-chartPin It

5. Cost

As you can see above there is a considerable difference in cost between the two systems, but very little difference in actual real world use. If you are shooting with a top of the range full frame DSLR with the lenses above for commercial clients and print in large formats, then you may see an advantage.

gh3_with_12-35_lensPin ItThe image here was taken in Paris with the Panasonic GH3 and the 12-35mm f2.8 lens. I’ve processed it in Lightroom and the results are not lacking in my view. Plenty of dynamic range to pull out the highlights and shadows. This was not a HDR image. The point I’m making is: you might not need to spend thousands to get the results you need, especially with some good post processing.

6. Weight

Being able to carry your kit with you and hardly notice is a big thing. It can allow you to feel more free, this generally leads to a happier shooting experience, which will likely mean better photos. Your happiness will shine through your images and you will attract more opportunities into your life that allow you to make better photos. Lugging around 15kgs (around 33lbs) of kit is not much fun. Especially, if you don’t need to.

Looking at the above dream kit for your full frame DSLR, how many of you can honestly say that you’d have it with you on a daily basis? I can’t tell you how many shots I’ve missed in the past because my kit was in the bag, tucked up safely until my next ‘big’ gig. If it’s smaller and lighter, I find it’s more likely to be with me, ready to use.

I find friends and family enjoy using a m43’s camera a bit more too. People I wouldn’t consider photographers have a much easier time with m43 cameras as they are simply easier to use. They are not as intimidating either, I’ve actually got some photos of me with the kids rather than ten thousand of my wife with the kids.

Things like eye and face detection actually help on some occasions. For people less familiar with certain techniques, these can prove to work well. At this moment in time, the majority of traditional DSLR’s cannot do effective face detect as they do not have contrast-based auto focus.

7. Sensors

Sensor size and the impact it has on your images can vary a great deal. A full frame sensor is based off of the 35mm film days, APS-C has a crop factor of 1.6 and m43 sensors have a crop factor of 2, when compared to full frame.

The image below shows the different sensor sizes:

sensor_sizesPin ItThe sensor also affects your field of view and focal length. These days, full frame 35mm sensors are considered the standard that all other sensor sizes are compared to, simply because it’s the familiar size from the 35mm film days and has been with us for many years. Lenses designed originally for this field of view don’t have a crop factor.

So, when looking at a m43 sensor we generally compare it to a full frame 35mm sensor, which equates to focal length and depth of field being multiplied by two. If this sounds a bit confusing, it’s actually quite simple when you break it down.

As an example, take a 25mm f1.4 lens like the Panasonic/Leica option. It lets in the same amount of light as a f1.4 lens on a full frame body. This never changes, but the sensor is two times smaller. The focal length and aperture are also multiplied by two, effectively giving you, what looks like a 50mm f2.8 lens when compared to a full frame camera.

You may also notice a bit more dynamic range with a larger sensor, but this isn’t always the case – as demonstrated in the above Paris shot. Would the picture have looked better if I had taken it with a Nikon D800 and 24-70mm? Maybe would it be noticeable, probably not, unless you are printing a massive size or zooming in 300%.

8. Depth of Field

A m43 camera gives you less depth of field at the same focal lengths when compared to a 35mm sensor, less ‘bokeh’ or out of focus backgrounds. But how much ‘bokeh’ do we really need? Most studio portraits are shot between f5.6 and f8, that would be f2.8 or f4 on your m43 camera allowing you to have smaller, less powerful strobes. Depending on what/how you shoot this has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The below shot was taken with a Panasonic GH3, 12-35 f2.8 at 35mm and has plenty of ‘bokeh’.
panasonic_gh3_12-35_lensPin It

On a m43 camera you can stay at f1.8, letting a load of light in, but still get your subjects face in focus rather than just their eye lashes. This allows for a faster shutter speed and/or lower ISO’s. If you take a landscape photo, you can be at f8 instead of f16 and see the same results with everything in focus, again letting in a lot more light, keeping the shutter speed higher or using lower ISO settings.

Full frame lenses at f1.2 will give you a very unique look indeed, a look that a lot people love. I enjoy a good dollop of bokeh as much as the next guy, but I’m also aware of how to use it. There is so much more to bokeh than just shooting a full frame camera at f1.2. Focal lengths, composition, subject matter and light all play a big part in this, and each system can achieve the coveted shallow depth of field if you know how these elements work together. The two images below demonstrate more bokeh than you can shake a stick at. The left image was taken with the Olympus EM-5 45mm f1.8 at 1.8 the right one was with the Canon 5D3 and 24-105mm at 105mm and f4.

canon-olymPin It9. Range

It’s huge for both m43 and DSLR systems, you can rest assured that whichever system you choose you will not be wanting for anything. We have already covered lenses above, but you can get flashes, filters, bags, battery grips, tripods, light modifiers and a lot more, all geared specifically towards both systems. For such a young system, relatively speaking, m43’s really do offer the photographer a viable alternative to the DSLR, unlike any other system at the moment, although Fuji is getting close.

You can get excellent cameras in both systems from the budget conscious right through to the professional looking for the best of the best. With new cameras like the Olympus OM-D EM-1 blurring the line between what was once strictly Nikon D4 territory, it’s an exciting time to be a photographer.

 10. Appearance

You look super cool with the latest silver and black retro designed camera, especially when its housed in a vintage look brown leather man bag! Just kidding, but the m43 cameras like the Panasonic GX7 and Olympus EP-5 are very cool cameras to look at, hold and use. They inspire me to shoot more and have a certain feeling about them which is lacking in most larger DSLR’s. I particularly like the Fuji X series cameras like the XE-2, X-Pro 1 and X100s.  Although these are neither a DSLR or a m43 camera, it’s worth mentioning them here as most people will be looking at these alongside the Panasonic and Olympus offerings when looking at this style of camera.

11. Image Quality

lumix_gx7Pin It

These smaller system cameras open up new ways to shoot, they allow you take DSLR quality with you anywhere, with excellent fast prime lenses. They allow you go relatively unnoticed should you wish, but most importantly they deliver the results, they give you image quality that up until recently you could only get with a DSLR!

Where you will notice a difference is in low light. M43 sensors are not the best in low light. They aren’t bad, but a larger sensored DSLR will serve you better if you have to shoot at ISO’s above 1600. Light is 95% of photography though, and I would encourage you to learn how to light your subjects properly and then the high ISO limit becomes less important. olympus_omd-em5_45mm_lens_2Pin ItAbove shot taken with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and 45mm f1.8 at 1.8. Plenty of dynamic range with this sensor.

Personally, I can see a difference between m43’s and full frame sensors, albeit small sometimes. With the right lenses, my Canon 5D3 has a depth to the picture that I cannot achieve with any m43 camera to date. It has a 3D like quality and it’s files are much more forgiving. I can push a raw file from my Canon a lot more in post processing should I need to and the new Sony A7R is even better. How important this is to you, depends on the job your shooting. I use each system accordingly.


Ultimately, you can’t really go wrong with either system. They are both capable of producing absolutely stunning results. Much of it boils down to what you are going to use them for.

All you have to do is look at the classic photographs from back in the day. My equipment is more advanced than the cameras they used but the photos they produced are timeless masterpieces that capture so much more than simply pressing the shutter button.

It really is an exciting time to be a photographer.

Photography Dictionary

The Cynic’s Photography Dictionary
Aberration – According to the photographer, something wrong with the lens. A classic case of pot calling kettle.

Aberration – Something that is wrong with the lens by design, as opposed to something wrong with the lens by accident of assembly or use.

Aperture – The opening of a lens, identified by a number that gets larger as it gets smaller.

Artist, (Real) – Someone whose images are sold for horrendous amounts of money, usually after his/her decease

Artist (Successful)  – A person who creates something from nothing, marks it up 1000%, charges usage rights and repeatedly sells it to clients.

Autofocus – An automated generated focus error.


Barrel Distortion – A defect that used to be absent from good wide angle lenses but has now reappeared, thanks to the availability of computers.

Bokeh – the look of the picture in the parts where you can’t tell what you’re looking at.

Build Quality – How heavy the metal barrel, on the outside of all the important parts of the lens, is. For example, any lens weighing more than 2 pounds has great build quality.

Burst Mode – Paparazzi in a button

Camera – The part built into a cellphone that takes pictures.

Camera (Good) – Seldom seem currently, a pocket-sized device that takes pictures, yet cannot make calls or surf the Internet.

Camera (Great – DSLR) – Preferably with grip and large lens. ‘That’s a big camera – bet it takes great pictures!’ See also, Greatness Quotient.

Camera Bag – A term found in the lexicon, but never in actual use, as nobody has only one.

Circle of Confusion
1. The area defined as any where within a a ten foot radius of the photographer.
2. An area defined as within arms reach of my desk.

Clients – Your greatest desire and your worst nightmare

Corner – The edges of an image, generally known for lower image quality.  They begin at the 4 points furthest from the center of the image and, depending upon the equipment and photographer, comprises between 20% and 100% of the image.

Cost Factor – A multiplier, usually between 1.1 and 2.0, that is applied to the cost of a new camera to determine the true cost, once you factor in the offsetting gift to the wife necessary to gain acceptance after having purchased said new camera. When applying a cost factor before purchasing a new camera, the value can range from 1.0 to Infinity, depending on whether or not the wife will recognize a new camera in use within the first few months after purchase.

Creative Cloud – A method by which Adobe can continue to take your money forever after they have run out of ideas for new features that you need.

Creative effect – A substitute for creative effort


Decentered – An image showing very poor quality. This is usually assumed to be caused by the equipment mounted to the front of the camera, but is often actually caused by what is behind the camera. See also, Sample Variation

Depth of field (abbr. DoF) –
1) something you absolutely must have in landscape, aerial, street, or macro photography;
2) something to avoid at all cost in any other photograph, especially when you only want one of the eyelashes of a person in sharp focus, or if you want to “isolate” your subject and thus, remove any hint of where the image was taken. Is *not* directly related to sensor size, as common belief would have it. See also: circle of confusion, manliness.

Depth of Field – The part of an image that is in best focus, traditionally placed just in front of, or just behind, the subject. See also, Autofocus.

Diffraction – Physical phenomena used to excuse any soft landscape image.

Digital Rebel – Minimum required equipment to be a professional portrait or wedding photographer (See SMWC – Soccer Mom with a Camera).

Equivalence – Mathematical formula that allows the photographer to theoretically understand the relationships between the camera’s sensor size, lens’ focal length and aperture, and photographer’s manhood. The equivalence definition is needed after the comment “My sensor is bigger than yours”.

Exposure – When clients offer you to kiss their ass as compensation.


Fanboy – What the owners of one brand call the owners of another when a new camera comes out.
Film – Magical plastic strip capable of producing images when voodoo is performed upon it in a dark room.

Film Camera – A tool used by professionals to capture candid moments so as to be dismissed as an amatuer by the general public.

Fisheye lens – Specialty lens that seemed like a good idea just long enough for you to buy one.

Flash – Device that enables photographers to remove any atmosphere from the lighting in a photograph.


Genre – Broad categories of photography such as landscape, action, glamour, wildlife, and portrait, all of which taken together are less common than the most popular genre, the ‘selfie’.

Golden hour – The two times of the day when landscape photographer have a good excuse to ditch the family and get some alone time with a good beer while on vacation.

Greatness Quotient – Factor to apply based on the weight of the camera gear used to take a picture. The bigger the gear, the better the picture that will automatically come out of it.


High Dynamic Range (abbrev. “HDR”) – A way to produce images that make you think you’ve taken LSD, thereby eliminating the risk of actually ingesting it.

Hipster – A person with some one else’s money and even less sense.

Histogram – A graphic representation of the camera’s or photographer’s ability to set the exposure

Hyperfocal  – Complex calculations to make sure the background is as blurry as the foreground.

Hyperfocal Distance — Neither here nor there.

Hyperfocal Distance – Your focal length is too long like when you want to get a wide angle shot and you have your telephoto lens on.

Hyperfocal distance – The distance to focus on to get everything important in your image soft.


Image Stabilization – a technologic triumph consisting of lenses, magnets, position sensors, springs, and electric motors that is nearly as effective as 3 sticks of wood attached to a base plate. See also, Tripod.

In Spec – Slang term meaning both ‘we can’t make it any better before we go on break’ and ‘you probably can’t tell the difference anyway’.

Instagram – A set of filters or actions regarded with complete disdain by the photographic community because they are not available as Photoshop plug-ins.
ISO –A rating of sensitivity. For example, some people judge cameras by how well they take pictures without light. Such people are very sensitive about how they will take pictures in the dark. Naturally, they do not say what they are taking pictures of.


Leica glow
1) circular red device used to invisibly enhance pictures.
2) nostalgia syndrome observed in users of technically perfect lens. See : spherical aberration

Lens Cap – The part of a lens that immediately gets lost.

Lens cap – A plastic disc used to cover & protect the external glass element of a lens. Only ever in place to protect the lens while inside of a lined, padded, protective case; never in place during actual use when the lens is being swung about, bashed, dropped, etc. Only problem is, if it were in place whilst the lens is in use then you would only ever be taking one picture over and over and it would be solid black…this however would greatly lessen the need to learn anything at all about aperature, shutter speed, and ISO.

Lens Coating — What happens when a lens gets too close to a happy Labrador.

Lens Coating —  thin layers of of substances applied to clear glass that makes it clearer. In the 1600s people were burned at the stake for claiming things like this

Lens Hood – The part of a lens that so inconveniently blocks the zoom function when kept in the most convenient (reversed) position.

Lomo – The photographic contents of the Recycle Bin.


Magic Lantern – Incredible software that causes extreme panic anytime your camera does something you don’t expect it to – usually user error like locking the remote trigger shutter release in the ‘on’ position.

Manliness – To own the biggest possible camera with the longest affordable lenses, carried by at least one mule and two assistants who also hold light stands and reflectors. See also: shooting

Minimum Focal Distance – How close an object may be to the front of the lens, yet still be in focus. Historically of importance for macro photography, but today used to make certain arm’s-length ‘Selfies’ are in focus.


Natural light – Term used when taking indoor photos by people who don’t know how to use flash.

ND filter – After spending an extra $2000 for the lens that lets in more light, add this filter to drastically reduce the amount of light that gets in.

Phase Detection Autofocus – a method to approximately put the plane of focus somewhere near an object approximately selected by a point in the viewfinder that approximates the location of a dedicated sensor in the camera which is approximately calibrated to the camera’s image sensor. See also, Depth of Field.

Photographer (Aspiring Professional) – One who trades their work product for exposure/recognition. (See Tear Sheet.)

Photographer  (Artist, self-imposed) – someone whose images are too bad to being sold

Photographer  (Knipser (German))
1) everyone else who doesn’t fit into any of the previous categories;
2) owners of Instamatic cameras;
3) newbies, hobbyists, amateurs;
4) you & me

Photographer  (Professional/commercial) – Someone who is actually paid to take a photo

Photographer  (Professional) – Person that takes photos for financial gain as opposed to trading photos for exposure/recognition (See Tear Sheet).

Photographer  (SMWC: Soccer Mom with a Camera)
(See professional children’s portrait photographer).

Photographer  (Starving Artist) – A person with a creative disposition with no business skills

Photography (Action) – The use of very large, expensive lenses to make rapidly moving objects appear immobile.

Photographer  (Ambient Light ) – Photographer without a clue as to how to use flash or off-camera lighting (See SMWC – Soccer Mom with a Camera).

Photographer  (Nature) – Found mostly in parks or zoos, also frequently seen parked along “Wildlife Drive” in many Wildlife reserves taking photos out their 4×4 SUV’s window. (See Cades Cove Loop road).

Photography (Architectural) – The art of pointing a camera in front of you when a building is present

Photography (Glamour) – A type of photography practiced by many and mastered by few, with the purpose of creating images of creatures not found in nature.

Photography (Landscape) – The art of pointing a camera in front of you when a building is not present

Photography (Portrait) – The art of pointing a camera in front of you when a person is present

Photography (Wedding) – A complex form of photography that consists of first of making hysterical people appear calm and joyous, and later making sloppy-drunk people appear pleasantly tipsy. The purpose is to create a beautiful album of images that statistically has a 54% chance of being ripped into little pieces within 5 years.

Photography Workshop – A presentation where one photographer with minimal skills and abilities reiterates basic and commonly known photographic information to other minimally skilled photographers for a fee. (See redistribution of wealth.)

Photoshop – Suite of digital photographic tools used to make a poorly made photograph appear to be a well made photograph. (See turd polishing).

Pinterest, Flickr, Facebook, et al – Online locations where photographers upload and display their photos for others to steal and claim them as their own.

Pixel Envy – The desire for more pixels by photographers lacking resolution.

Pop-up Flash – a device added to smaller cameras to make them bigger, camera manufactures go to a lot of effort to make sure that the pop-up flash is close enough to the lens axis to allow photographers to achieve a technique called Redeye. Also see Flash.


Render – Just a general term to confuse people but make you look smart

Render – Cute little animals that pull Santa’s sleigh.

Render – from the German ‘Render’. Something an expensive lens is said to do, especially when it doesn’t do anything else exceptionally well.

Resolution – Learning to live with the pixels you have once you have realized that there will always be a newer camera that has more pixels than the one you currently own. (See Pixel envy)

Rule of Thirds – A painters’ conspiracy to prevent photographers from learning composition.

Rules of composition – A set of reasons to easily describe, in a polite way, why someone’s photograph sucks.


Sample Variation – The difference between this photographer and that photographer. Is often incorrectly applied to equipment.

Sample Variation – The difference between this lens and that lens, even though both of them are the same lens.

Sensor – The device that actually takes an image. Its most important attribute is the number of megapixels unless yours has fewer, in which case dynamic range, high ISO performance, microlens effectiveness, color accuracy, and other characteristics are more notable.

Sharpness – The amount of fine detail visible in an image before it is compressed to 1/10th its original size to post online.

Shutter – The last line of defense against your next photographic failure.

Silence – The response of many wives and at least one camera company when an obvious problem arises.

(1) versatile photograhpical unit that measures time, aperture or sensor (film) sensitivity, separately or sometimes combined. See Equivalence.
(2) The last word the photographer might hear from his wife before buying new equipment. It is usually followed by Silence.

Stop Down – To move the f-number up.


Tear sheet – Fictional item of value used to barter for free use of photos in a publication, advertisement or on a website. The target photos are usually taken by the unsuspecting or naive photographer.

Technique – The methods that let someone else make pictures I couldn’t afford to buy, using equipment that I would throw away, and vice versa.

Theft Deterrent – The use of electrical tape to cover the manufacturer’s name on a DSLR to cause thieves to not recognize it as expensive and worth stealing.

Tripod — A stabilizing device with three legs that everyone agrees would improve the sharpness of images taken by others. See also, Image Stabilization.

Tone Mapping – Easy-bake method for getting a nifty “paint by numbers” look from one’s $1,500 full frame Nikon body.


Uncle Bob – A person with too much money and not enough sense.

UV Filter – A piece of glass over the front element to prevent it from getting sunbured. So far, 100% effective.

UV/protection filter – A triumph of marketing over common sense.


Velvia 50 – Alternative pronunciation of Garish.

Viewfinder – Unlike those silly mirrorless cameras, this allows you to see the image exactly how the sensor will see it. Well, 95% of it at least. And with the wrong aperture.

Vignette — A technique used by lens designers to make the image very dark in the places where the lens is very bad, based on the principle that if things are dark enough you won’t notice how bad they are.


Weather resistant – A term that consumers falsely define as ‘weather proof’ and camera companies accurately define as ‘the warranty doesn’t cover water damage’.

Wide angle prime DX lens – An elusive dream. See unicorns and Santa Claus.