17 Jun 2012

Project D800E -secure the shot in low light conditions

This is third post in the series of D800 project. Previous post you can find here and here.
Today I'll move the project a step further, from the general camera configuration settings to the practical shooting situations. I'll start with the low-lighting conditions.

Shooting in the low light conditions is one of the topics that are heavily discussed on Internet in photography communities in context of D800. D800 gives some interesting possibilities to achieve very good results in such situations. For me it is especially important since I take regularly shots of the different events that take place in not so great lighting conditions. If you can control it, you can boost your lighting, but if not - you need how to get the maximum out of your camera having only the ambient light.

So this post is a kind of a theoretical preparation before actual assignment I'll take next week.

When a camera calculates the exposure basically it takes three factors into account: aperture, shutter speed and the ISO sensitivity. Of course one can try to match all three factors manually to achieve the desired result. I will focus rather on the 'semi-automatic' modes that D800 (and BTW many other cameras) offer. Let's start with the most interesting mode to me, i.e. the aperture priority (A). This is the mode I use most of the time. The workflow is quite simple: when one fixes the ISO to an arbitrary value the camera will adjust the shutter speed to ensure the proper exposure. If the shutter speed is too slow, increase the ISO value to let the camera increase the speed. Nice, but as an event photographer I often don't have so much time during the assignment. Meet the Automatic-ISO mode.

Automatic ISO mode

In this mode the camera adjusts the ISO sensitivity in a situations when the two other factors (aperture and shutter speed) don't provide sufficient exposure. Here's how it works in case of D800:
Aperture priority mode:
First the shutter speed is decreased to meet the required exposure. If the shutter speed reaches the limit (more on it in a second) and the exposure is not enough, the ISO is increased (to a predefined limit). If the exposure is still not enough after reaching the limit of the ISO, the shutter speed is lowered further.
Important to note is that here one have two control options: minimal shutter speed at which the ISO starts to increase and the maximum value of the ISO. For the ones who rather prefer the graphs, the diagram below illustrates the whole process:

The two parameters that control the process are marked in red in the diagram.
The auto ISO mode can be set in the Shooting menu, option ISO sensitivity settings.
This menu opens a sub-menu where the Auto ISO sensitivity can be switched on and off and both parameters described earlier (Maximum sensitivity, Minimum shutter speed) can be setup.

The setup sequence is as follows:

1. Enable Auto-ISO:
Menu,,, -> ISO sensitivity settings,,->Auto ISO sensitivity control,,->On, Ok
2. Setup maximum sensitivity:
 -> Maximum sensitivity,->Choose value that suits you, Ok
3. Setup minimum shutter speed:
 -> Minimum shutter speed,->Choose value that suits you, Ok

The minimum shutter speed offer the Auto option. In this option the shutter speed will be set based on the value of the current lens focal length (or 1/30s for non-CPU lenses). So if for example the focal length is set to 50mm, the shutter speed will be set on 1/50 s. While it might be tempting in some situations, I would be cautious here. This rule of thumb may be not so well applicable for the D800 due to its huge sensor resolution and sensitivity to the camera body movement.

Last word about settings: Auto-ISO mode can be easily switched on and off by pressing the ISO button and turning the secondary dial button.

A final question is on how far one can crank up the ISO in case of D800. This of course depends on the scene, lighting conditions, the purpose of the photo, etc. My preliminary experiments show that setting the ISO to 2000 is a safe choice. Just one example. The photo below has been taken at ISO 1800.
Taking the 100% crop of the image reveals some noise grain in the background, but it is acceptable, provided that any noise reduction has been applied to the image. This amount of noise is easily removable in Lightroom.

For the assignment next week I'll start with the minimum shutter speed equal to 1/125s and maximum ISO 2000. We'll see how it works.

As said last time, I have the first version of the D800 cheat sheet ready. Please keep in mind that it is in a very draft status, with lots of empty (or even non-existing) sections. You can see it here.

Next time I'll look more closely at the Dynamic Lighting feature of D800 and the dynamic range of this camera in general.

10 Jun 2012

Project D800E - couple of handy settings

In the post about basic settings I have described a very few options only. The Nikon D800/D800E offers much more convenient options that can be used to customize the camera to one's personal preferences. The order of the settings is not very structured, I have chosen the ones that are most convenient to me.

Use dial buttons as cursor keys

It is convenient to navigate through the menus (or through the photos in the view mode) by using main and sub dial button instead of the cursor key. In this mode the main dial button is used to scroll up and down, and the secondary dial button to move left and right.
To set it up use the option f9 - Customize command dials in the menu Custom setting menu. Navigate to the Custom setting menu, choose option f9 and then from the submenu the last option: Menus and playback. Select the option On if you want to use the dial button for menu and in the view mode or On (image review excluded) to use it in the menu only.
In the quick-reference notation:
Menu,,f Controls,,->  f9 - Customize command dials ,, ->Menus and playback, ->OnOk

Note that this option does not disable the regular function of the cursor keys. It is an additional way of navigation through the menus and photos.

Lock exposure while pressing the shutter button half-way

I find this option convenient especially in the situations where the image composition needs to be changed after locking the focus. And in 90% cases I want to have the exposure locked as well on the light conditions that were measured during focusing.
To lock exposure by pressing the shutter half way use the option c1-Timers/AE lock from the Custom Setting menu
Menu,,c Timers/AE lock,,->c1 Shutter-release button AE-L  ,,->OnOk

Customize AE-L/AE-F button

If one chooses to use release-shutter button to lock the focus and exposure, the AE-L/AE-F button can be used for different purposes. There are several options available, under the menu f6 - Assign AE-L/AE-F button.
There are two ways (mutually exclusive) of using the customized AE-L/AE-F button: choose the option by pressing the button (AE-L/AF-L button press) or choose the option by pressing the button and dialing the command dial buttons (AE-L/AF-L + command dials). Describing all options is actually something for the manual. I have found one option particularly interesting, namely the option called Bracketing burst. If the shutter-release button is pressed while the AE-F/AE-L button is pressed in single-frame release mode, the camera will shoot the number of photos specified in the bracketing program. Normally one need to press the shutter-release button multiple times to take all bracketed photos. Bracketing burst is convenient in combination with autofocus auto-mode. The focus and exposure settings will not change while taking the images in such activated series.
To customize AE-L/AE-F button for Bracketing burst use the following sequence:

Menu,,f Controls,,->  f6 - Assign AE-L/AE-F button ,, ->AE-L/AE-F button press, ->Bracketing burstOk

Next time I will present the first version of the D800/D800E cheat sheet with the things already described and couple of new.