Firmware 2.00 for Fuji X-E1

One of the things I love about Fujifilm is that they continue to add features to their cameras years after they are released. Yesterday they released firmware version 2.00 for the X-E1 and corresponding firmware updates for their lenses.  (Yes, you read correctly – Fuji releases updates for the CPUs in their lenses as well as their camera bodies.)

In addition to improving autofocus speed and accuracy, firmware version 2.00 for the X-E1 adds an incredibly cool feature: “Focus Peak Highlight”. In manual focusing mode, as the subject comes into focus, it is outlined in high contrast – the edges appear white, as shown in this brief video from Fuji:

This great feature makes it much easier to manually focus using either the rear screen or the electronic viewfinder. In addition, pressing the “Command dial” activates image magnification, and turning the dial allows selection of 3x and 10x magnification. Keep in mind that while in manual focus mode you can press the “AE-L  / AF-L” button and the camera will autofocus using the currently selected point of aim (by default the center of the viewfinder, but it can be moved around as you desire). Focus Peak Highlight provides an instant visual confirmation that your desired subject is in focus.

While testing the new X-E1 firmware I also noticed a feature I missed in my initial review. In addition to displaying the current distance for which the lens is focused across the bottom of the viewfinder (a vertical red bar across the green distance scale), the X-E1 also displays depth of field information by expanding or contracting a white highlighted area on either side of the red bar. This area takes into account focal length and aperture, clearly indicating the range of distances that will appear in sharp focus.

This combination of features makes manual focus on the X-E1 easier to use and more accurate. My usual technique is to leave autofocus turned on, half-press the shutter to focus, and then recompose my shot. It’s a habit I developed shooting with SLRs because it’s much faster than moving the point of aim around manually. However, with the new X-E1 firmware a better technique for portraits may be to place the camera in manual focus, aim at your primary subject, press the AE-L/AF-L button to focus, and take advantage of Focus Peak Highlight to make sure you get the shot you want.

Online SLR Simulator

Sometimes the best way to learn is to play, and Canon has done a fantastic job with their SLR simulator. You can try various modes (manual, shutter priority, and aperture priority), experiment with shutter, aperture, and ISO sensitivity controls, and see simulated results online. They also have a great page that explains the controls.

While this simulator is by Canon, the same basics apply to all other cameras with manual controls.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 – Understanding Metadata Storage

One of the highly desirable features of Lightroom is that editing is non-destructive. You can adjust, crop, retouch, and apply various settings to your images without loosing the original. However, it’s important to understand where the edit information is stored and the implications.

By default, Lightroom stores all metadata (including changes to the image) in its catalog. If you only use Lightroom on one computer and you never have any problems with your catalog, you’ll probably never notice – your changes just work. However, if you were to delete your catalog, all changes will be lost. In other words, you’ll only have your original image files. So even in simple use cases, it is critical that you back up your Lightroom catalog.

If you use more than one computer to work on your images, and use you a catalog on a portable hard drive, the same situation as above applies. However, since Lightroom will not use a catalog on a shared drive, the situation becomes more complex for those of us who share images across their network.

Lightroom, like many other photo packages, is also capable of reading and writing image metadata from image containers such as jpegs and from “sidecar” files. If you right-click on an image or folder in your library, select “Metadata” and then “Save Metadata to File”, the data will be written to either the appropriate place in the image file or an XMP file in the same directory as as the image. There is also a setting to do this automatically:  Edit > Catalog Settings > Metadata Tab and place a check in the box for “Automatically write changes into XMP”.  I strongly recommend that you turn this option on:

  1. It increases compatibility with other applications including Photoshop.
  2. If your catalog becomes corrupt, you can re-import images without loosing all your work.
  3. Assuming you backup your images, you will also back up the metadata.
  4. You can open images from another PC or import them into another Lightroom catalog and preserve all your edits.

If you’re starting to work with a second computer and haven’t turned this option on:

  1. On your primary computer, right click on the top folder in your catalog and select “Save Metadata.”  It’s going to take a while, perhaps overnight, but it will write the XMP files.
  2. Turn on “Automatically write changes into XMP.
  3. You can now create a new catalog on your second computer and import your images into the catalog. Lightroom will pick up the XMP data.  Don’t forget to turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option for each new catalog.

As you’re working, you might notice an indicator in the upper right corner of an image warning you that metadata has changed on the hard drive, presumably because you edited the image on a different computer or within a different catalog. You can right click on an image (or a selection of images) under “Metadata” and select “Read Metadata from File”.  If you’d like to force Lightroom to read Metadata at the folder level, simply click on the folder, choose Metadata from the main menu at the top of the screen, and select the appropriate option.

There are two drawbacks you should be aware of:

  1. Writing XMP data to disk may reduce Lightroom performance in some circumstances.
  2. If you have a lot of jpegs and write XMP data, each file will change (as opposed to raw files, where a separate .xmp file will be created).  If you use an online backup service, beware that writing XMP data en mass may result in all your files being uploaded again. On the other hand, your work will now be automatically backed up.

To recap:  By default Lightroom 3 stores all your work in the catalog only unless you configure it to automatically write XMP or manually force it to. XMP files are cheap insurance and for most users I recommend configuring Lightroom to write them automatically.

Photos in front of the Christmas Tree

This time of year many of us want pics of the kids in front of the tree to send to relatives, printing on cards, etc.  Shooting these images can be a challenge because lights on the tree are warm (colour temperature) and not that bright.  Using a flash or strobes (which are much cooler) will result in images that are difficult to colour balance and if you run your flash and camera on auto it will usually wash out the tree lights.

Here’s a quick recipe to get you going:

1) Mount your camera on a tripod and use a cable release (or self timer if a cable release isn’t available and your subjects will hold still that long). Turn your flash off.

2) Use tungsten light (i.e. standard light bulbs) to light your subjects. I use an inexpensive hot light that takes a standard size bulb and a 10-inch reflector.  This year I used a common 100w bulb and placed it high and center. Move it closer or further away until the tree light, ornaments, and the face of your subjects have the look you want. Be creative – use room lights, lights with clamps, or whatever you have.  Just try to stick to the same colour temperature to preserve the balance and help achieve that warm look.

3) Set your camera in aperture priority mode (“A”) and select the smallest aperture (i.e. largest f-number) that still results in a shutter speed higher than 1/10. You may need to adjust your ISO to a higher number, such as 400. f5.6 at 1/20th or faster would be ideal, but you may not get there.  Some of my favourite shots this year were at f2.8, 1/15th, ISO 400. With large apertures pay careful attention to focus and depth of field. If your camera allows you to “zoom” in while viewing images, use that feature to check for focus and sharpness, especially if photographing kids that don’t hold perfectly still.

4) If you have an advanced camera you can set your white balance manually. If not (or if you don’t want to) just shoot with auto white balance and adjust in Lightroom or your favourite photo editor after the shoot.  3000k is a good starting point.


Color Scheme Designer

As a photographer I hate to admit it, but I’m horrible when it comes to picking colour schemes.  I know what I don’t like – it’s easy for me to conclude that a colour is too warm or cold, that I’d prefer a darker shade, or that the saturation just doesn’t cut it.  But ask me to help choose a colour palette for a web site, and I’m in trouble.

Over the weekend while searching for some help, I ran across this gem: Color Scheme Designer.  It’s a free web-based application that allows you to choose a hue, adjust saturation, brightness, contrast and other options to develop your killer colour scheme.

When you’re done, you can click on the “Scheme ID” (look for it on the right under the four colour squares) to obtain a URL to your new scheme – perfect for sending to friends, colleagues and web designers for their opinion.  Thanks to Petr Stanicek for this excellent tool!

Ten Spring Break Photo Tips

Whether you’re going on a vacation to somewhere hot and sunny, or staying around town to visit local attractions, you’ll want to remember every moment of the fun. Why not grab your favourite digital SLR camera to document your spring break with the utmost flair? Switch to Manual mode and get creative with your shots. Take time now to learn what your camera can do beyond Auto mode. Not sure where to begin? Follow these simple tips and make this year’s spring break photos your best ever.

1. Shoot in continuous mode – If you’ve ever had trouble taking crisp, clear photos of a constantly moving subject, a child or pet for example, try changing your camera settings to a continuous burst mode. Several frames per second will increase your chances of catching your subject just the way you want. If you have Subject Tracking, you’ll have an even greater array of features to help you capture that perfect shot.

2. Flash forward – Using a flash ensures all your photos are crisp and clear, especially in darker lit settings such as a dinner or dance party. And don’t stop there – be sure to use flash outdoors as well to help balance any dark contrasts.

3. Work with what you’ve got – Take advantage of your camera’s settings whether it’s a low-light sensitive capability such as a broad ISO range, or automatic setting selections for taking pictures in various environments. Learn the features your camera offers and use them to create impressive images you’ll be proud to put on display.

4. Shutter finger – The beauty of digital is the ability to review any photographs you take instantly and decide which you would like to keep or re-shoot. With this in mind, don’t hold back. Take more pictures rather than fewer and sort through them later. This will help you focus on the photo opportunities at hand, giving you a better chance of capturing that perfect shot.

5. Exposure is key – Any good photo has an intended balance to the amount of light used when the picture was taken. Experiment with your camera’s exposure settings, bracketing the brightness levels for different effects. Sometimes an over or underexposed photo can be a creative expression of an otherwise normal photograph. Just remember, when in doubt, underexpose – these images can be brightened later on, whereas an overexposed image won’t pick up all the details and not much can be done to correct it.

6. Get to know, be a pro – Take into account who or what your subject is. If you are photographing a person, learn what their personality is like and what they are comfortable with; if you are taking photos of an animal, you will need to know what its temperament is; and taking pictures of an object requires you to identify the best features to highlight. The more you learn and understand, the better you will be able to model your photograph in its best light.

7. Wherever you will go – Take your camera with you so you never miss a moment. When selecting a new camera, consider how you will transport it. If you select a smaller unit, this will be less of a concern, but if you purchase a larger, heavier camera with additional lenses and flash attachments, consider investing in a good camera bag to protect your equipment and make it more portable. When on foot, take advantage of a camera strap around your neck – many of today’s digital SLR cameras feature rapid start-up times, so you’ll always be ready if a picture opportunity arises.

8. The more the merrier – Challenge your skill level. Investing in a few accessories can make photography easier and help to produce better photos. A tripod can help to steady a shot, while additional lenses provide various zoom options, macro options, wide-angle, and more. Adding an external flash can make a photo more dynamic. Digital SLRs are great because they are customizable to every photographer’s needs.

9. Don’t forget to touch up – Make life easier by performing simple image corrections right on the camera before uploading them to your computer. This makes picture development a snap.

10. Have fun! Be creative – Get up high or down real low to capture that perfect shot, creating dimension, angles and a personal flare to all your photos. Develop your own style of photography to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Gregory Flasch is Advertising & Communications Manager in the Consumer Products Division of Nikon Canada Inc.

Photographing Lightning

Adrian writes,

I’ve tried recently to photograph lightning but with little success.
Is there a basic set of rules to follow for this? Or some sort of guideline where I can try to find what works best for me?

I personally haven’t tried lightning, so for this one I turn to the National Geographic Photography Field Guide by Burian and Caputo. They recommend as follows:

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Using your flash

Adrian writes,

I notice a lot of professionals always use their flash no matter the conditions.
I’ve tried this but sadly poor results. Why do they do it and why do most of my flash photos suck!?

Photographers often use their flash for “fill”, especially when photographing people. Rather than blinding them with the sun and getting a photo of a squinting subject, it is often more effective to put them in the shade or even with their back to the sun and then use a reasonably powerful flash to light the subject. It’s just another technique to control the light falling on your subject.

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