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. 

Sorry for the postus interruptus this morning. False start.

Ann Richards ©1994 Kirk Tuck

I worked late last night photographing the new play about Ann Richards that's opening at Zach Theatre this week. Usually I can post fun images from the play the day after I shoot them but this production is different and my public relations manager asked me not to post images until after they are approved by the production company. I started to post one image from last night and quickly removed it when I got the e-mail from P.R.  Too bad, because I wanted to show off the capabilities of the new Sony a6300 as I experienced them on a real job.

Instead, I thought I'd go straight to the original source and show a photograph I did of the real Gov. Ann Richards, right in front of the Texas Capitol, holding a bouquet of yellow roses.

I'll share the production photos from the play when we get the green light.

Hope your week is off to a great start.


By the way, the play should be a great experience, especially for people who were active in Austin and Texas politics in the early 1990's. What a time!

Additional edit at 4:04pm. I dug around and found the original, full frame version of the above image and I like it even better than the cropped one. Here it is:

A Favorite Selection from my Photographic Assignment. Making Marketing Photographs for the "Ann" play at Zach Theatre.

From the play, "Ann", starring Holland Taylor
at the Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas.
From the tech rehearsal. 

Photographed with with Sony a6300
Sony 18-105mm G lens