The Only Harley Davidson in Madang – The Coastwatchers Monument

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on February 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Some of you may have already seen the image below of me sitting on my Harley Davidson 883 Sportster with the famous Madang Coastwatchers Monument in the background. I put it up on my Facebook page a couple of days ago. Even if you have seen it, you may want to have a read or two of excellent articles about the Coastwatchers here and here. Take a few minutes to contemplate the raw courage of those who sacrificed themselves daily to protect others.

MadDog at home in Madang on the Harley:

Now, if only I had the time to ride it.

Okay, okay, I’ll tell the truth. Yes, it is me on my Harley, but the real subject of the post today is yet another blah, blah, blah about camera esoterica. That’s right – yet another geek attack.

As I am hopelessly addicted to natural light photography, passionately hating flashy lights, I have a natural interest in cameras, cheap ones, which can take good pictures in very low light levels. These are rare beasts. Since I refuse to pay more than about US$500 for a camera (I give a camera a hard life!), my options are quite limited. That’s why I was anxious to get my hands on a Canon G11.

There’s no way that you’re going to cram even a modest 11 megapixels onto a sensor the size of your pinky nail and not  get a bunch of noise when you push it to high sensitivity in low light. The question is how much  and what kind  of noise. There’s noise and then there’s noise. Have a look at this (you’ll have to click to enlarge – you’re looking for speckles):

Keep in mind that the image was taken by the light coming from my computer screen – nothing else. That’s pretty dim. The image looks fine as long as you don’t make it so big that you can see the speckles.

Now have a look at this shot, again clicking to enlarge:

Much better, eh? You can see the little drops of condensation on the can. You can even make out the weave of the beer cozy.

What happened? Well, I ran it through a filter in Photohop called Noise Ninja Pro. I have used the filter for years; it’s the best noise management system that I know. However it seems to be able to handle the noise from the G11 sensor much better than the noise from my previous G series Canons, the G9 (noisy) and the G10 (very noisy). This all has to do, I’m sure, with some fancy math such as cubic splines and other tomfoolery which I forgot within nanoseconds of passing my exams. Hey, it’s somebody else’s job!

Anyway, the G11 is capable of producing images shot in very low light at ISO 3200 which, while noisy, can be used as-is for small formats and cleaned up with a good noise filter for larger presentations. Have a look at this beautiful fish woman artefact taken by the twilight coming in through the window of our house:

Above is the noisy, but still useable RAW image reduced and converted to JPG.

This is the same exposure treated with Noise Ninja Pro (no, I’m not getting paid for this):

A very nice image.

At the risk of putting you out cold, here is a final sample pair. I took this shot at mid telephoto off of our veranda at first light when I could barely read the numbers on the camera knobs and the plant itself was in even deeper shade. I could barely see it:

Again, it’s noisy, but look at how nicely it cleaned up:
Okay, you can wake up now. It’s over.

I’ll try to do better tomorrow.

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Direct Comparison – Canon G9-G10-G11

Posted in Photography Tricks on January 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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This post may cause some of you to reboot. Sorry for that. Not everybody is a photography geek. However, since I find myself today with all three of my Canon G series cameras at the office, I decided to make an extremely unscientific comparison of them. Canon has been all over the map with megapixels in the G series. The G9 was 12 and shot pretty good pictures. The G10 went to 15 and gave amazing detail in good light conditions, but was too noisy for the low light levels that make such sweet available light shots. The G11 gives you  10 megapixels. Why the backtracking? To give you a better all-round experience. Fifteen megapixels are overkill for most uses. And, the “buckets” are too small to catch enough photons to keep the sampling fair. Remember, all this dancing around of pixel counts was done without changing the size of the sensor.

Anyway, that’s way too much detail for most folk and the geeks already know what I’m talking about. Here’s a series of three shots at my bolted-to-the-wall computer in my office. All were shot at ISO 1600, which is adequate for most indoor shooting without flash as long as there are no kids or pets in the shot and you can brace a little to avoid motion blur. Just the ticket for those romantic, candle-lit dinners. All of these are a small portion of the centre of the frame – about a 300% enlargement:

Here’s the G9:

It’s noisy, no doubt, but it’s not unmanageable. I’ve made no compensation for megapixels here and the shots are compressed with JPG, so it’s not a technically sophisticated comparison, to say the least. Non-photographers probably won’t even notice the differences.

Here’s the G10 image:

We have to click all of these to really see the detail. If you do, you will probably note much more noise and a generally poorer image. That’s because of trying to cram 15 million pixe3ls on something smaller than your little finger nail.

Here’s the G11 image:

I would certainly call this better than the G9 or G10. There’s less noise and it is of the manageable kind, using a good noise filter such as Noise Ninja Pro. The detail level is better and the whole thing simply looks better.

So much for low light. How about normal shooting? I grabbed this image in front of my office today on the G11:

Nice and clean for a snapshot, but it doesn’t tell us much.

Here’s a blowup from the G9:

Pretty crisp. You can read the PNG on the plate.

Here’s the G10:

Not so hot. I didn’t get the apparent size the same, but you an still tell that it appears a bit blurry compared to the G9. Again, more pixels doesn’t necessarily make a better camera.

Here is the shot from the G11:

Frankly, I can’t see a lot of difference here. That’s to be expected. At high light levels, we shouldn’t expect to see much, although my imagination whispers that there is more detail in the shadows and highlights for the G11. This is is one of the Holy Grails for point and shoot cameras – low noise, high dynamic range. The extra detail in the shadows and highlights make a huge difference when you’re trying to achieve magnificence on a budget.

So, what does MadDog think?

Well, first MadDog wonders if anybody cares. I took this shot with the G11 in miserable lighting conditions at ISO 1600. The G11 has a swivel screen, so you can do all of those exciting things with a camera that you’ve only dreamed about. Just don’t tell me about them. I’m as happy as a clam. I can’t wait to get it into its UW housing and take it diving on Saturday.

I’m probably going to start carrying my G11 as my daily camera, though I’m a bit nervous about that, given the security situation here. When my G9 was stolen and thrown to the pavement, it still worked, except in the UW housing, Still they are tough cameras. I can’t think of many cameras with which you could club a thug unconscious and then take his picture.

I’ll still use the G10 when I need massive detail. Good light and lots of pixels can’t be beat for some jobs. But, my new sweetheart is the G11.

I’m so fickle.

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