Picture Taking Frustrations at the Al Urquia

Since the weather was nice at the Al Urquia Regatta, I decided to use my new camera to shoot pictures.  I usually used my Nikon D40, but I had the D7000 in my hands for two weeks and decided to see how it would do for the race pictures.

It was a frustrating experience for several reasons.  A lot of the problems can be traced to me as the photographer.

So here is what I learned from that day.  It may not be applicable to what you are doing, but at the very least – you shouldn’t feel bad if you have troubles with your pictures.

My setup:  I shot in manual mode as I usually do.  I take a few test shots and make sure that the rowers faces aren’t too bright.  This usually leaves my pictures a little on the dark side.  Also – I usually spot meter (a single spot) for focus.  Since my D7000 has about 30 different focus options I decided to use an area focus (but weighted to the center of the frame.)  I started shooting the regatta at ISO 800 and about 1/800th second shutter speed.  As the day went on I went down to about ISO 400 or 500 – but kept the fast shutter speed.

In general:  My old camera shoots a 6 mega-pixel picture.  The D7000 goes to 16MP.  I shot at 16MP and saved the files as JPEGs (like I normally do.)

Problems:

1) I was fixated with my RGB histograms.  On my old camera I only have one histogram.  On this new one I can look at each of the colors.  The red histogram would often show up as “blown-out” (all the way to the right) on the rowers faces.  Although the pictures seemed to be OK I obsessed about this constantly and probably kept the pictures a little darker than I should have.

2) I shot at too high an ISO.  Granted, it was a dark day with the clouds.  But I thought this camera would shoot ISO 800 better than my old camera.  I don’t think this is the case.  I believed this because I had shot several photos indoors at ISO 3200 and was amazed at how nice they looked.  I inferred (incorrectly) that ISO 800 would look just like ISO 200 on my old camera.  It didn’t.

Lets look at some examples.

Here is a picture with the D7000 at ISO 800 blown up so 1 pixel equals 1 screen pixel.  Also – none of these pictures are re-touched – they are straight as they come from the camera:

 

 

Now – Here is a picture from last year with my old camera (D40) in similar conditions – with an ISO of 800  – Again blown up for an equal comparison:

 

As you can see the pictures are very similar.  The ISO seems to be the dominating factor in the quality of the picture.

Finally – how good can it get?  Here is an ISO 200 picture from my D40 (at this year’s Darrell Winslow Regatta) – adjusted for comparison…

 

Interesting, isn’t it?  The old camera took better pictures. I suspect this was because it was at ISO200 vs ISO800.  The edges definitely look crisper.

If I were to change anything from that day it would have been to shoot at a lower ISO (400) and cut the shutter speed down to 1/400 (or even lower).  I would have had some fuzzy pictures from movement, but I think the overall quality would have been better.

More pixels ain’t better:  In general – I wouldn’t expect the new camera to take significantly sharper pictures than the old camera.  With 16MP vs 6MP, I am only getting about 2.7 times as many pixels than I did before.  It is not a big difference.  This also caused problems when I processed the pictures after the race.  Normally my images from my D40 were about 1 Megabit in size.  The pictures from my D7000 were about 5 Megabits! (I think I was shooting in “JPEG Normal” vice “JPEG Basic” which probably made them larger as well…)  I normally shrink my files to about 500 KB to put them on the site.  That would have looked awful with the new larger files.  I got the new camera files down to about 1MB each – but the quality had to be dialed back more than usual.

Limits of My Big Lens?:  I admit – I bought the cheapest long lens I could.  It was still expensive, but I like to think it was “good enough”.  However, I noticed in many of my shots I had “purple fringes” where I had white/dark edges.  You can really see it in this blown-up piece of a photo from the Al Urquia:

I don’t know exactly where this comes from.  It could be a chromatic aberration from the lens.  It could be a slight focus problem.  It could be an artifact of the camera sensor or compression.

I believe it is primarily from the lens and it now shows up because I have a greater resolution of my sensor.  I went looking back at my old pictures with the D40 and you can find the same effect.  If you look at the rower above with the white stripe on his uni – you can barely see it where the sun illuminates the white stripe.  But I don’t think I noticed it until I got the higher resolution camera.

An additional note on the lens:  I had mentioned before how my 50-500mm lens sometimes had trouble focusing at the 500mm point.  With my new camera I found the exact opposite.  It would focus wonderfully at 500mm all day long, but It had trouble at 50-100mm when I didn’t have a clear subject  in the center of the frame.  Weird.

If I do take this lens/camera combination out in the future, I think I will try reducing the pixel size of the end photograph to see if it reduces the purple fringing effect.

One last factor:

Photo Setup:  I normally shoot “VIVID” in my setup to get the colors out a little more.  In my new camera I think I overdid this setting and this may be part of the reason the purple fringes are so noticeable.   I should have started with the basics and left it alone. I put this in the ‘dumb photographer’ category.

I also found the suggestion that I could get sharper pictures by stepping down the aperture (choosing a higher number like f8 or f10 instead of f6.3 which I normally shoot.)  This would force me to use a lower shutter speed as well.

In the remaining races I think I will go back to my old camera. For the pictures I am taking, I don’t need the extra resolution and the increased file size is more hindrance than help.

Happy shooting 🙂

 

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