Thursday, 15 February 2007

Improve Your Photos, Buy A Tripod

… and get the right one first time!

If you want to take more than snapshots with your camera, get a tripod. Any landscape work will become much better and it is the only way to take impressive night scenes.

There are basically two opinions out there:

1) Weld your camera to your tripod and never take it off. Well, yes, you will get much sharper images. Also the fact that the tripod is slowing you down will make you choose/ lock-in a better composition.

2) Forget the tripod. It is limiting your creativity and you will loose too many opportunities/ shots. Many angles/ views you would never consider if your camera were mounted to a tripod.

Of cause the truth lies somewhere in between. Be aware of the facts and use the equipment to your advantage. Below are two photos, one taken with a tripod, one without. Take a guess ;-)

If you want to use the tripod outside, you will need a solid one! Forget the cheap/ tabletop ones. You will end up buying twice. Unfortunately solid means heavy. Solid and lightweight means carbon-fibre, and that means big $$$.

Good tripods get sold in “two parts” – legs and head. The legs determine the stability and hight. The head is used to move/ position the camera and lock it. Ball heads are the most used type for photography.

I bought a package with Bogen / Manfrotto 3001BN Tripod Legs and 486RC2 Compact Ballhead. This combo weighs 2.5 kg (1.7kg legs + 0.8kg head) and can support up to 4.5kg of equipment. It is ok for me to carry around. So I assume that is true for the average built male photographer. The package costs about 200 US$ (Dec 2006).

However, if you want to travel light, you will need to spend much more. Carbon-fire legs (approx. 1kg) plus a magnesium head will weigh approx. 1.5kg in total. It saves you 1kg compared to non-carbon set-up, but will cost you at least 500 US$.

A good place to buy is B&H Photo ( Great reputation, no scams there. Check it out.

Below are two more tripod photo examples.

Twilight city shots are most impressive as the lights and the dark blue sky create a great atmosphere.

Long exposures capture the lights of the cars on the road.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Digital SLR Sensor Cleaning – Copperhill Set

If you are using more than one lens on your SLR you will sooner or later experience two issues.

1) Visible dust particles when looking through the viewfinder
2) Dust bunnies (spots) on your photos

Cleaning the inside of a digital SLR is the ‘open-heart surgery’ of photography. You can get it done by a professional service for about 100$. All camera manufacturers recommend to NOT do it yourself. If you scratch the sensor, you will have too carry the repair costs yourself.

On the other hand, it is doable. If you use more than one lens with your camera, you will need to get it cleaned regularly. After a lot of research I decided to get the procedure done myself. The below worked for me, but of cause it’s your own decision and risk.

A few tips upfront
  • Clean your camera in quite room on a clean table. No kids, dogs, cats around. Lots of light, no open windows/ wind.
  • Read the instructions in your camera manual and cleaning equipment ay least twice before you start!

1) Visible dust particles when looking through the viewfinder
These particles do not show up in your photos. The dust is most likely on the focusing screen below your pentaprism and above the mirror box in your camera body.

Ignore it as long as you can. Otherwise use a sensor brush and clean it very very carefully/ gently! I managed to remove two annoying large particles quite quickly.

Once you take the lens off, you will look directly at the mirror. The focusing screen is ‘ above’ (towards the built-in flash). See an illustration here:

Never try to clean the mirror. The mirror is front-silvered and gets scratches easily. Do not touch it. Use a manual blower to blow any dust off. It is does not come off, ignore it!

2) Dust bunnies (spots) on your photos

Dust on your sensor will result in visible spots on your photos. These are more visible in bright areas of the photo. And in photos taken with a large f-stop. Take a photo at f22 from the sky and check the photo. at 100% in Photoshop. Apply auto-level and it will become even more visible. See sample photos below.

To clean the sensor, you must put your DSLR into ‘cleaning mode’. For the Canon 20D this is done via the menu ‘sensor cleaning’. Read your manual! This will lock up the mirror so that you have direct access to the sensor. Once you take off the lens, you are looking directly at the sensor.

Actually your are not touching the sensor itself as there is a glass cover on top of the sensor.

One big warning here: If the power shuts down the mirror will come down and crash into anything what is in it’s way. Make sure you have sufficient battery life. Tape off the memory card compartment, opening it will shut down the 20D! Tape off the battery compartment. Put a stripe of tape over the power switch after you turned the camera on. Make sure you have a roll of scotch tape around and do the above at all times!

There is special equipment available to clean DSLR sensors. I used the Copperhill set. Find the details here.

In Australia you can get it here:

You might also want to read:

Sensor after a year with no cleaning :-(

sky at f22

After swiping the sensor once, the test shot looked like this. 1 spot left.

sky at f22

Take Care!