I was going to call this Boston Blue Line. But the “Train to Wonderland” sounded more evocative.
Boston’s Blue Line subway offers a great example of when to make good use of a digital camera’s ‘auto white balance’ feature. This is in contrast to yesterday’s post describing when to avoid ‘auto white balance’.
Auto white balance is a good tool when exposing photos under fluorescent lighting, where the color balance varies with the color temperature of the bulbs. With this setting the camera will automatically select a neutral white that avoids unnatural tints caused by color-spikes in the bulb’s spectrum. These artificial bias-tints are typically invisible to the eye but produce a strong color cast in photos.
In an ideal world, my new camera would arrive on a fine summer morning and I’d have nothing more important to do than to spend days and weeks to play with it unhindered. No joy.
I had to dig a trench through a snow drift more than two feet deep so that UPS could deliver my camera, and this was the second or third revised scheduled delivery, as repeated weather events had conspired to postpone my camera’s arrival.
I’ve been working on no less than three (four really) book projects, all competing for my time and attention. And, in the middle of all this I had to prepare for a trans-Atlantic crossing, which was advanced with little warning owing to more snow.
Jetlag hates me, or loves me, I don’t know which, but crossing five time zones leaves me bewildered, disoriented, and tired. Great time to make photos with a new camera . . .
I pressed the shutter release; nothing happened. I turned the camera on and everything was dark. What’s this switch for? Why won’t the camera focus? Why does it have a double exposure mode? How to do I change the focus mode? Eight layers of menus! You must be joking?
What can I do with it? How comfortable is it to use? How do the photos look?These are some of the questions that I have of any new Camera. The LX100 has been eagerly awaited and only recently released.
Last week Eric Rosenthal, my digital photography guru and new equipment advisor, lent me a brand new Lumix LX100 to play with. Unfortunately, I’m facing a series of tight deadlines, so I really only had a few hours to put the camera through its paces.
This wasn’t enough time with the LX100, and I could have spent days working with it! The LX100 is a versatile piece of equipment with lots of features, so I had only begun to play with it when it was time to get back to work.
As regular followers of Tracking the Light are aware, for nearly five years I’d worked with a Panasonic Lumix LX3 (among other cameras). In May I sampled the newer LX7 and in June I bought one. The LX3 was a great camera (I exposed more than 64,000 images with it, before the LX3 expired following a series of mishaps), and the LX7 is a worthy successor. (I’ve never seen an LX5, which was briefly offered as the replacement for the LX3).
The LX100, while kin to the earlier Panasonic Lumix LX cameras, is a different machine. It is not only more advanced, but it is better built, it features a heavier body, a larger lens (more glass) and a more modern sensor, and so in the hand it feels more like a traditional rangefinder camera.
What I liked the most about the LX100:
1) It has a built-in viewfinder, so unlike the earlier LX-series cameras you need not rely on the rear display screen to compose photos. The viewfinder comes on when you put your eye to it. It has a diopter, so you can adjust it to suit your vision (I wear glasses and for me this is an important feature). The viewfinder is especially valuable for composing photos of moving trains in daylight.
2) The LX100 uses traditional rings and dials, which allow you to set the aperture, shutter speed, focus and zoom-lens manually. While you can manipulate these settings by navigating the camera’s menus, for the most part you don’t need to. This makes it work more like a traditional camera. Again, for making railway photos this is important to me because I can make adjustments quickly and intuitively without having to stare at the display screen in bright daylight and/or when your subject is rapidly rolling into view.
3) Like the LX3 and LX7, it has the option of making both RAW and JPG files simultaneously, which in my mind makes this a tool for making publication quality images.
4) It has an outstanding Leica lens which allows for very sharp images, and at f1.7 allows lots of light, which again is important for making railway images, especially in low-light situations, and allows for shallow depth of field, when that is desirable. Also, the lens stops down to f16, which gives it greater versatility.
5) The LX100 uses a sensor that is larger and more advanced than that on the LX7, and this allows for higher quality images while is specifically designed to make more effective use of the camera’s built-in aspect ratios (the dimensions of the image frame). Like the LX7, it has a switch to select the following standard aspect ratios: 1:1 (square), 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9. I found the average RAW file was about 16.5 MB. (I’ve discussed this feature in previous posts).
But how do the images look? Below are a few rough comparison images made using the LX100 and my LX7. All images were made hand-held. I did my best to approximate the focal length of the lens, and to use comparable shutter/aperture settings. These images are from the in-camera Jpgs and now the RAW files (which are substantially larger). I did not post-process the images or alter them for color balance, sharpness, contrast, or cropping. But I did scale them for internet presentation.
However, WordPress, which is how Tracking the Light is presented, tends to compress images and I find that they never look as good on this site as they do directly on my computer screen. So take that into consideration.
For the most part, I was trying to match the camera’s output as closely as possible for the sake of appearance. I set both cameras at their respective ‘Standard’ color profiles. (Both cameras have several color profiles to select).
Since the LX100’s lowest ISO is 200, and the LX7’s is 80, this presented a bit of a quandry. If I set both cameras at 200, the LX7 images would have a quality disadvantage, while if I set the LX7 at 80, I would need to use a slower shutter speed or a smaller f stop to make an equivalent exposure. (The caveat is that the LX100 is a more versatile camera by virtue of its superior sensor. Simply, it can do more because it has greater range.)
The LX100 has a multitude of features, modes, filters and etc, which I’ll discuss in a follow up post.
On the Morning of October 25, 2009, I brought my brand new Lumix LX3 out for a test run. I had just received my first digital camera and this was a trial to see if it was any good.
I’d bought it on the recommendation of Eric Rosenthal. My initial hope for the camera was to use as a light meter and to make photos of friends.
That morning I drove to East Brookfield and made this image of the old Boston & Albany station. Two eastward trains came by and I photographed those on film, not trusting the new purchase for anything important.
I later drove around making photos of local architecture in the autumn color. I soon found that the LX3 was an extremely powerful tool capable of very sharp images and useful for making a great variety of railway photos.
Approximately 11 months later, I received a phone call from Dennis LeBeau of the East Brookfield Historic Society: the station had been torched by vandals and gutted. For another year or so the skeletal remains of the building remained trackside as a sad reminder of what had been.
This Lumix image is exactly four years old today. In the interval, since I made this image I’ve released the LX3’s shutter more than 15,000 times.
For years, friends have asked my advice on camera exposure, typically on-site with a train bearing down on us. Politely, I’ll offer suggestions—based on conditions, but such advice can be deceiving since conditions change quickly. For my photography, I often refine exposure as the scene unfolds. A train entering a scene may alter my anticipated exposure, which requires subtle adjustments at the last moment.
Using the camera’s histogram to judge exposure is part of my latest technique for refining exposure and making optimum use of the digital camera sensor. A histogram reflects exposure information collected by the sensor. This is displayed as a graph that offers exposure quantification: it shows the range of data recorded by the sensor and alludes to data lost. The histogram allows me to gauge when the scene is over- or under-exposed. It solves much of the guesswork previously necessary when shooting film, while providing real information by which to adjust future exposures. What it doesn’t tell me, is as important to what is displayed on the graph.
Using film, ‘over-exposure’ inferred that too much light reached the emulsion and resulted in an image that appears too bright, while ‘under exposure’ inferred that too little light, thus and a dark image. It was never as simple as that, but that’s good enough for the moment.
The advent of digital imaging combined with the ease of post-processing using digital technology has changed the definitions of exposure, so far as I’m concerned. I can now use information from camera sensor on-site to help capture the greatest amount of information.
This is not much different than my traditional approach to black & white photography. The new tools offered by modern digital cameras have altered my means for calculating exposure. More to the point; the need for obtaining desired visual balance between light and dark in-camera isn’t part of my exposure technique because the appearance of the exposed image in the thumbnail on the camera display doesn’t accurately reflect data collected, while the final image may be best refined after exposure.
Here’s a difference between film and digital: Film sensitivity is less definitive than with digital sensors; simply, the data accumulated during a digital exposure fits between definite parameters, while with film significantly more information may be retained than is readily visible to the naked eye. Beyond these limits with digital, data isn’t recorded (to the best of my understanding). Thus to obtain the greatest amount of visual information a digital exposure must be calculated to be carefully placed between the image’s deepest shadows and brightest highlights. The tool needed to gauge this decision is the camera’s histogram.
A histogram displays a series of lines progressing from dark to light. These lines reflect the number of pixels exposed in the various gradations. How this data is collected isn’t important for this exercise. Crucial, is the assessment of the histogram in order to make future exposures that don’t lose critical information in extreme highlight or shadow areas.
When I make snow photos, I expose in a manner to place the bulk of information toward the center of the graph. I pay close attention to highlight falloff. Losing detail in the brightest parts of distant clouds, or at the center of locomotive headlights isn’t a problem, but losing detail in snowy foreground is undesirable. Ideally, the graph will taper gently into the extremes, indicating the smallest degree of loss in the deepest shadows and brightest highlights.
The histogram is extremely useful when exposing bright snow scenes, because most camera automatic settings are not tuned to expose for large fields of white and tend to grossly misjudge a brightly lit and largely white scene. This typically results in under exposure which renders snow gray rather than white and, risks opaque shadows (a substantial loss of information). It renders many elements too dark (such as the train passing through the scene). However, a few modern digital cameras have ‘snow settings’ that should overcome these difficulties.
Before making my desired image sequence, I’ll make a series of test exposures to check the effect of camera settings. Based on information displayed by these graphs I’ll make exposure adjustments to place highlights and shadows appropriately. As my subject approaches, I’ll further refine my exposure by making adjustments in 1/3-stop increments. I’ll continue to compensate for exposure changes caused by the train entering the scene (including variations caused by locomotive headlights and ditch lights).
Displayed here are both hypothetical graphs to show how I read histograms, and images of the real graphs from my Canon 7D exposed in snowy scenes last Sunday, February 10, 2013. Both types of images are intended to illustrate how I’ve selected exposures.
I use the histogram feature all the time, but find it most useful in extreme situations. It has proved its value by eliminating uncertainties previously caused by the extremes of snow photography.
Some advice for the graph-adverse photographer working in snow: use the camera meter to gauge base exposure then override the meter by opening up by 2/3 of a stop (for example open from f11 to f9).