4.04.2016

Optimizing the shooting performance of your one inch camera (or any camera).


A reader has asked me several times to talk about how to get good results out of the one inch cameras we been talking about for the last few years. Let's get one thing out of the way upfront: If you need to have noiseless, ultra detailed shots at ISOs above 800 you'll likely be happier with the latest generation of full frame or, at least, APS-C sensor cameras.  Physics is physics. I guess. There are compromises in every choice we make and as much as I wish my $1,000 cameras could do ultra clean files at 6400 I am reminded that even my $3200 Nikon with a $1,000 lens isn't noise free at those settings.... You are always trading sheer quality for flexibility, handling and purchase price. 

But with that said the secret to loving the results from any camera come from using it to its fullest potential. To do that you need to practice good photography. It's that simple. Let's start with camera movement. While I.S. is magical, and both the fz 1000 and the Sony rx10 have very good built in I.S. it's not really a panacea for good camera handling and immobilization. I don't trust I.S. nearly as much as I trust a good tripod or a well implemented monopod. Step one to getting landscape photographs that rival photographs from much bigger cameras is to stop screwing around with hand holding and get your gear on some sticks. Tripods are the gold standard and I guess that's why I have a half dozen scattered around the studio and in the car. Get good ones. Get a very expensive carbon fiber model if you have to carry it a long way. Get a heavy, heavy, sturdy one for the studio. 

Use your tripod correctly. Don't depend on extending the center column to get more reach. Use the tripod legs instead. And buy a tripod that goes as high as you need it to without extending the center column. Sturdy as it may be it's less sturdy than depending on the intersection of the top plate and the legs. Once you have your camera mounted on a tripod it's kind of stupid to trigger the shutter with your finger, because that also causes camera motion which is immediately translated into less sharp images. Use a remote trigger or download the maker's app and trigger the camera with your phone. If you don't have those options then for goodness sake, take advantage of the camera's self timer to trigger a hands-free exposure. 

If you need the mobility and are still willing to give up the pure goodness of your tripod consider using a monopod. See the image above? I was about to shoot a dance rehearsal and I needed to be able to move around quickly --- but I wanted to get really sharp images --- so I put my camera on a monopod and that actually gets me into a pretty solid space. In addition, you can use I.S. on a monopod (but generally not recommended for use on a tripod) and that gets you even better results --- as long as you consider your technique. Your feet should be spread shoulder width apart and your legs and the monopod should form a tripod of sorts. Don't drink a lot of coffee or contemplate your audit while shooting and try to use a light touch with the shutter button. 

The next thing to consider is shutter speed. Most people think that stopping down to just the right f-stop is the magic way to get sharpness but that's only true if you have already conquered camera motion. You might think that, because you have miracle I.S. you can shoot at 1/15th, 1/30th or even 1/125th with the longer focal lengths of the zooms on the one inch cameras but I'm here to tell you that you probably should revert to the old rule of thumb and still shoot at a shutter speed that is at least the reciprocal of the lens length. If the lens is extended to the equivalent of a 400mm you should make 1/400th your minimum shutter speed. Even on a tripod it can make a difference if the camera itself causes some of its own movement (shutter shock, mirror slap). So, optimum shutter speed counts for a lot. Really. Always faster if you can. Always. 

So, if you've done all that stuff above you get to the idea of the optimum aperture. Smaller sensor cameras are at their best nearer wide open and further from all the way stopped down. The fz 1000 and the RX10 both love being shot at f5.6 and f8.0. They hate smaller apertures. I think of these cameras as having only three apertures: wide open, only for when I can't do anything else, f5.6 when I don't need endless depth of field but want high sharpness on a singular object, and f8.0 when I want high sharpness coupled with deeper depth of field. Wide open is only for low light when it can be used to avoid subject motion. 

So, now you are on a stout, Gitzo five series tripod. You have your aperture set at f8.0 and you are triggering with a remote or using the self timer. You found a great shutter speed.  Good for you. You are about half way there to sharpness. 

Since you are shooting landscapes the only subject motion you need to care about is trees swaying in the wind and grass blowing in the breeze. Go back up and experiment to find the shutter speed that effectively freezes this movement as well. It's trial and error but you can see the effect. And when you look for the effect on that back panel LCD be sure to zoom all the way in so you have a fighting chance of seeing the actual effect. Everything looks sharp on a tiny screen. 

The next thing to consider is your ISO. If you are shooting stuff that doesn't move you are crazy not to be shooting at the lowest, non-gimmick, ISO on offer. For the two cameras we're talking about ISO 100 is a safe bet. Only go up if it's impossible to use that optimum aperture ---- but before you bitch and moan about the need to use high ISOs just remember the generations of photographers who were able to make incredible images on ISO 64 and ISO 100 slide film. If they could do it with primitive materials you should be able to do better (technically) with the latest tech. The tripod is a wonderful camera equalizer....if you use it. 

All this preparation is for nothing if you don't get two things right: focus and exposure. As you under expose digital images get noisier and noisier. The noise obscures detail. It's like sprinkling sand over the top of a painting. You need to nail exposure. Not to, much, and not even a half stop too little. Oh sure, you can recover a lot from underexposed images but that's not the point. You asked about optimizing sharpness not compromising sharpness. Learn to read a meter and learn to effectively read your histograms and, if the subject is important to you then by all means, bracket the exposures in one third stop increments. Oh hell, do that anyway so you can bring your files back and look at them big on the screen and better see the differences I'm talking about between frames. 

Once you've absolutely nailed exposure turn your focus to focus. Most people get it wrong. Or sloppy. Or they depend on depth of field to save them. In all images only one thin plane can truly be in totally sharp focus. Everything else is a regression from the perfect focus point. It only makes sense then to nail focus precisely on what you are most interested in seeing clearly. All the new cameras have a million focusing points and ten different ways to set up focus but if you are shooting landscapes you don't need to worry about any of that crap. Set the center point as your focusing element. Set the camera to AF-S, point your camera at the thing you most want to be in focus and initiate focus by pushing the shutter button half way down. When the camera finishes its job and the point is in focus lock it there. AF-L is the setting you are looking for. Can't find it? Then once you have the point nailed switch the camera from AF to MF, effectively locking in your focus point. Recompose and shoot your photograph. Then check (review) at 100% to make sure you got focus exactly where you intended and not in front of behind or side to side. If you want to take it up a notch then go into MF and enable your focus peaking. Set it at the lowest level possible ---- it may be harder to see the little yellow lines creep in effectively but that setting has the most discrimination. Now bracket your focusing in tiny increments around the point that your camera originally suggested. 

When using the center AF sensor make sure you use the camera setting to reduce the effective sensor size to a minimum, this will ensure that you are focusing on precisely what is covered by the green indicator in the finder and not on a bunch of stuff in the periphery. 

Now we're closing in on good technique. Be sure to shoot raw and, if you have the option, choose uncompressed raw and choose the highest bit rate your camera is capable of. Usually 14 instead of 12, though you can't really do that with the two cameras we are talking about --- just set them for raw. 

That's the first half. Now you need to process correctly. Not every raw converter handles every raw file well. Sony files are pretty good in Adobe Camera Raw but the Panasonic files are better in Capture One. If you are using the fz 1000 and want perfection in your files you should be using the latest rev of Capture One. Or DXO. Correct color balance first and then exposure, if you do these steps backwards you'll find that changing color balance will change exposure. And you want optimum exposure for high sharpness. If you have the option to select a profile for the lens you use then do it because some smart people spent a lot of time learning which settings make each lens look good. 

When you have finished doing all the stuff you want to do for your file then do the sharpening last. Sharpening is an art and most people do it wrong. Small radius with big effect works better that the other way around. But be aware that the sharpness you require is not universal to everything but is dependent on your intended output. Every sensor and every lens and every scene requires its own sharpening settings. You can also sharpen in DXO, which is very good. Most people overdo which makes images look crisp until they are enlarged past a certain point --- then the look falls apart. 

This is a matter of personal taste and must be learned by first reading every tutorial the software makers offer and none that you came across on DP Review. The makers of the software have a vested interest in helping to make your work look good so you'll buy the next rev of their product. The people on DP Review are generally just engaged in a pissing contest. 

Now, there are plenty of other things to think about. Highly collimated light sources make subjects look sharper. Softer, more diffuse lighting has the opposite effect. Flash helps to freeze both subject and camera movement and so is valuable in making images that present a high appearance of sharpness and detail. 

One last thing to mention is noise reduction. Anything that reduces noise also reduces sharpness. No free lunch. Turn off sharpening in camera and apply sharpening in post production where you have a lot more control over every frame. Add just barely enough to do the job but don't be afraid to leave in some residual noise because many times it conveys a greater impression of sharpness than the noise filter does in making things ultimately seem less noisy. But the secret to taming most noise goes right back to the top of the article = shoot at the lowest ISO. Get your exposure right in camera. 

This is just some of the stuff we think about when we shoot with any camera but I pay closer attention to all of the parameters if I am looking for optimum results from small sensor cameras like the one inch or the m4:3 cameras. Practice good technical and you'll get the absolute best out of your camera.

A well done small file can beat a sloppy D810, handheld file pretty much every day of the week. As long as you aren't pushing everything toward the ragged edge of Ming's envelope. 

Does that help?
carefully handheld fz 1000





Same applies to both cameras. 

Flash freezes motion. fz 1000. 


Sitting on a tripod for a reason. sharpness. 

24 comments:

Daniel Walker said...

Kirk
Thanks, that was absolutely great. You never disappoint. I would only add one other item. I also need to be more patient with those once in a lifetime shots. Thanks again.

Andy deBruyn said...

Very good post. Thanks a lot for taking the time to write this so well so clearly. The effort is much appreciated.

Gary said...

Bravo. Good advice. Just one question: what does this mean:

"When using the center AF sensor make sure you use the camera setting to reduce the effective sensor size to a minimum, this will ensure that you are focusing on precisely what is covered by the green indicator in the finder and not on a bunch of stuff in the periphery."

"Use the camera setting to reduce the effective sensor size to a minimum..." Please explain. Thanks.

ZetiX said...

Thank you - again!

Jim Putka said...

Kirk,

Bless your heart!

Well done article. Is it possible to share in more detail the techniques you employ in using your monopod?

Thank you for sharing and the effort you invest.

Jim

Howard said...

Kirk, I have a Craftsy video: this equals, maybe surpasses the instructional information value. Well done and appreciated. Anything similar coming for other camera use improvement?

Tom Northenscold said...

The primary reason to go with a one-inch sensor camera is size and weight. Carrying a tripod defeats the purpose. You can make excellent images handheld with an iPhone, a one-inch sensor camera and a full-frame sensor camera.

With smaller sensors I find the two big limitations are dynamic range and low-light performance. Consequently, when shooting with my iPhone or GH3, I'm careful not to stretch them too far on those fronts. Other than that, there's nothing of consequence that I do differently.

Rene said...

There's more valuable teaching in this article than any other that I've read in the last few years. I'd say each paragraph could easily be expanded into an individual lesson in shooting technique. I'm going to print this out and go over it again and again until I've internalized the parts I fail at now. Thanks, Kirk.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Tom, I think you are dead wrong. I think people have a range of uses for one inch cameras. They may be using a camera like the fz 1000 to shoot with the longer lens. They may be shooting either camera because they are both good choices for a wide range of video applications. They may be in the position to only have one, all purpose camera. Sure, they may shoot it hand held and TAKE ADVANTAGE of the light weigh and portability but since it is their one photographic tool they can ALSO put it on a tripod and squeeze the best from it. The size of the sensor has nothing to do with the dynamic range that I am aware of. The Sony RX10 has better dynamic range numbers than countless current and recent m4:3 cameras. Both the Panasonic and Sony one inch sensor cameras are better low light cameras than many of the recent (and current) APS-C Canon Rebel cameras as well (according to tests published by DXO). When you combine good sensors, the ability to do very, very good 4K video, and the inclusion of all purpose lenses that are, in many cases, a much smarter choice than a bag full of zooms for bigger cameras you come up with potent imaging tools. Whether on not you want to use them on a tripod and extract their very best is totally up to how lazy or un-lazy you happen to be.

If size and weight were the only parameters used in one inch sensor camera choice the two cameras I write about would never be chosen as they are much bigger, as a unit, that many competitors with slightly larger sensors. It's the combination of high res EVFs, cutting edge Sony sensor technology, incredible lens value and great image stabilization that drives people to choose these specific cameras --- not to mention state of the consumer art 4K video.

Now, if we were talking about Canon's mirrorless products I might agree......

By your logic we should never use a Nikon D810 or Sony A7R2 handheld and yet tons of people do, all day, everyday.

By the way, I have owned several GH3's and the low light performance and dynamic range of the Sony RX10 spanks the crap out of the Panasonic. Measured and viewed.

Finally, many people use the one inch cameras to get the SAME image quality as cameras with bigger sensors but do so to get more depth of field, which suits their specific needs.

Time and technology change. We can bury our collective heads in the sand or acknowledge the progression. But to say everyone chooses one of these cameras for size and weight is just..... wrong.

Kirk Tuck said...

Gary, both the Sony and Panasonic allow you to select smaller squares and smaller measured areas on the center focusing point. Choosing a smaller focusing point means that the camera doesn't see more than what you intended to focus on and then focus on it, to your chagrin...

Phil Stiles said...

Kirk, I've noticed the articles go up on the site well before the email notice goes out. Is that for a review of typos? Your prose is usually so perfect that when I do spot a typo, it really jumps out. "You need to nail exposure. Not to, much, and not even a half stop too little." Thanks for letting me get that off my obsessive/compulsive chest.
Now a real question: What is "the ragged edge of Ming's envelope"? Must be fellow blogger Ming Thien, such a sharpness and detail fetishist that he's moving to medium format. Aren't the limits of the shooting envelope once again subjective, despite the attempt to make it look scientific and quantitative?

Wataru Maruyama said...

Fantastic points. When I know I'll be using the long end of the FZ1000 or will be recording video, I always bring along a monopod. It makes a HUGE difference. I have a tiny travel monopod that is very easy to pack in anything and a more hardcore one that is more suited to video. I really should get a nice carbon fiber tripod though. Both my tripods are way too heavy.

gordotorg said...

Hi Kirk

I have been reading your site for a while and I would like to thank you and say, keep up the great work. The two recent teaching articles have been some of the best I have ever read. You cleared up a lot of issues that I was confused about, I can already feel the photo stress levels lowering. So thanks again! Now, since you have started down this path I hope that you will continue. (I think I should insert a winking smiley face here.) I have many other photography related questions that need clearing up.

Best Regards,
Gord

Kirk Tuck said...

Phil, I wish I reviewed for typos! I often catch things after the articles have hit the RSS feed so even if I have fixed them there are versions of the articles out there that can't be remedied. As to why the delay, I think that's just the way the queue works with Google's Blogger service.

On the "Ming's envelope" : Ming Thein seems to write about the "shooting envelope", the "performance envelope" and other envelopes fairly often. I presume he means the same thing I do here; which is to maximize what is available to you with the camera and lens (and tripod) at hand. He repeats the little "shooting envelope" phrase so often that I've come to associate it with ---- "Ming's Envelope".

Tom Northenscold said...

My comments related exclusively to stills photography, such as landscapes as addressed in your original post. I'll rephrase my first sentence. The primary reason I hear and read given by non-pros for moving to smaller sensor cameras is size and weight. I include MFT in that smaller sensor group. Size and weight were definitely the reasons I added MFT to my kit. Primary does not mean "the only," it just means the most important. For sure its the reason most often mentioned first by non-pros.

When I compare dynamic range, I'm comparing to my D800, which is quite strong in that area. My GH3 and iPhone 6+ don't touch it. They also can't touch it for low light performance. As far as noise is concerned, I suspect that anyone moving from a more modern FF camera to a smaller sensor camera would face the same trade off.

I don't buy into the idea that it using a tripod means you're lazy. Street photographers work as hard as any photographer. It's more about what matters to you in your images. I approach my hikes in the woods as if I were a street photographer. I'm out walking and hiking and I'm aware of my surroundings looking for inspiration and great light. I don't walk to a specific destination planning to wait out the light. Rather I walk by scenes and am drawn in by them. The more stuff I carry the less mobile I am. I go out with my D800 and one prime lens, the 28mm f/1.8G. I trudge all over the woods off trail. Sometimes I lay in the ground to get a shot. Other times I climb into the base of a tree. The last thing I need to be lugging around is a tripod. Sure, if I wanted to capture traditional labdscapes, that's what I'd do, but I'm going for something much more intimate and free flowing. That's how it feels when I'm in the zone.

I think photographers who want to make solid images on their smaller sensor cameras ought to focus on learning how to make compelling images irrespective of sensor size. I think use of a tripod is the least of their concerns. Technically tack sharp
images with uncompelling content are of zero interest to me.

Alan Anderson said...

"The people on DP Review are generally just engaged in a pissing contest."

How true, they also cannot spell Panasonic..

Anonymous said...

Kirk,

What are you promoting on noise settings in camera or if shooting raw do you just ignore it and handle in pp?
Great article, it is going in my bag for reference and a checklist.

Thanks,

Bruce Bodine

Noons said...

Thanks heaps for sharing this, very useful.
One thing I've found with the Oly EM5M2 and to some extent with its predecessor is using the lowest ISO can be counter-productive in scenes with a wide lighting range. (mind you: onlyin those cases!)
In a nutshell, it then becomes very easy to blow highlights out: I'm giving it heaps of light due to the low ISO. It shows in the histogram as well.

I've found with the older EM5 at 300 ISO and with the EM5M2 at 500 ISO gives me plenty of "room" to recover the odd highlight that looks blown out.
The noise nature of these sensors lets me pull 1 or 2 stops easily in the darks to get a narrower dynamic range with no "blow-outs" or "black-outs" at the extremes. Kind of an in-built HDR without the multiple exposures! I suspect the HDR mode of the EM5M2 does something along the same lines.

The problem continues to be the same: most monitors out there have a very limited lighting range and showing photos with high dynamic range in them requires a "compression". Same applies to most printers.

While modern cameras can have tremendous dynamic range, they are used only for capture. If we could have equivalent devices for showing, then it'd be peachy!
We could then indeed exploit that range to the full.

Fact is the affordable show hardware - be it printed or screened - is as bad now as it was 10 years ago. I'm of course talking about accessibly priced ones: of course like in everything else, there are Rolls-Royces out there. At a cost. And we can't all afford the latest 30" Retina display or some such on every wall of the house or show room!

In fact I suspect that's where the next "revolution" is going to be: the show hardware. The capture gear is more than enough, and that allows us to use smaller sensors and therefore smaller, more compact and easier to carry gear as you have shown.

Having said that, I'm in no way diminishing the need for D810s and such.
It's just that what can be done with smaller sensors is plenty good enough for 99% of what we can use as show gear now.

Tom Northenscold said...

DxO Mark testing has the RX10 MkII and the GH3 running neck and neck. On dynamic range they are nearly the same, and as for noise, the GH3 tests better. DxO Mark also shows that the four year old D800 has significantly higher dynamic range and lower noise than either of those cameras and is still highly competitive with the new Sony A7RII. When I wrote of the trade off on dynamic range and noise between FF and smaller sensor cameras, this objective testing was my frame of reference, along with my experience shooting the GH3 and D800.

Paul said...

Great article and I definitely relate to using Kodachrome 25 and 64 (lucky I live in a sunny country :)). I don't understand peoples obsession with stratospheric ISO

Most of the article is just good sense, photographers need to know limitations of technique and equipment, and that all photography is a compromise. It's up to the photographer to work out the balance that works for them, and sometimes a decisive moment is more important than ultimate sharpness.

Choosing the right RAW converter is essential if you don't want to spend hrs in front of a computer screen optimising noise and sharpness. I've used LR, DXO, Capture One and Olympus Viewer to convert Olympus files the last 3 provide a much better starting point than LR/Adobe Raw. I have a feeling LR/Adobe Raw is probably optimised for canon/Nikon files

Thanks for reminding me to use my tripod more often

Paul said...

I used to carry 40 pounds of Canon equipment (APS-C camera and L lenses) and a 5 pound Gitzo tripod. Now I carry my GH-3 and lenses (about 12 pounds) and a three pound tripod. I consider a tripod a necessity for a lot of the pictures I take - I have a tripod mount for my iPhone! The lighter equipment did not change the way I shoot! Being able to sometimes carry just an FZ1000 and the 3 pound tripod is very liberating and the image quality is amazing!

John M Flores said...

Next time you're in Central NJ, give me a holler! I'll buy you a coffee!

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Dog Photographer said...

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