Determining Base ISO

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Today’s Question: How do I determine the optimal ISO for my camera? I don’t remember anything like that in the manual or specifications when I bought my camera.

Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule the “base” ISO for a camera will be the lowest ISO setting available using the normal control for the camera. The special “low” ISO options available on some camera models would not generally be the base ISO.

More Detail: As noted in a recent Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, in most cases you can expect the least noise and best overall image quality by using the “base” or “native” ISO setting for your camera. In most cases, that base ISO will involve the least amount of amplification to the signal being gathered by the image sensor, which translates into less noise and greater dynamic range.

There are, of course, some exceptions in terms of how specific cameras function or the results you can achieve at various settings. And, of course, as many photographers have found, it isn’t always easy to find out which ISO setting is the “base” setting.

For most digital cameras you will find that an ISO setting of 100 (or sometimes 200) represents that base ISO. As noted above, in most cases the lowest setting you can set with the normal ISO adjustment control on the camera will typically be the base ISO that will provide the best image quality. The “extra” settings with a lower value that are typically found on a separate menu control for cameras with such an option are generally not the base ISO setting, and won’t necessarily provide improved image quality.

Again, there are many variables involved among the different camera manufacturers and models. That is why I always recommend performing some testing of your own to get a sense of the impact various ISO settings have on noise levels for your camera. In particular, this type of testing can help you get a better sense of how high you can raise the ISO setting before you start to see problematic noise in your images.

Embedded Previews

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Today’s Question: With a high-resolution camera do you recommend making use of the embedded preview option in Lightroom Classic CC rather than generating Standard previews on import?

Tim’s Quick Answer: On balance, I still recommend using the Standard (or 1:1) preview option in Lightroom rather than making use of the embedded previews that are included in proprietary raw captures.

More Detail: Choosing the option during import to use the embedded previews rather than generating Standard (or 1:1) previews could potentially speed up your workflow a little bit, since the embedded previews are already available and Lightroom would therefore not need to perform any additional work to generate replacement previews.

However, the embedded previews won’t necessarily match Lightroom’s interpretation of the photos, since the embedded previews are generated by the camera rather than Lightroom. Also, those embedded previews would not reflect Lightroom adjustments, such as if you had applied a Develop module preset during the import process. I apply profile-based lens corrections at import, for example, so all photos will have that correction by default. The embedded preview would not reflect those changes.

So, on balance I still prefer to have Lightroom generate the Standard previews during import. It takes a little extra time as part of the overall import process, but I feel that is time well spent.

Double Save Confusion

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Today’s Question: When preparing a copy of an image in Photoshop for online sharing, after I save my JPEG and try to close the image, Photoshop asks if I want to save my changes. But I just saved the image! Why is Photoshop asking me about saving changes when I just saved my image?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The description makes it clear that the image in its current state is not supported by the JPEG image format. Therefore, Photoshop is asking you to save the image in order to preserve all features you have taken advantage of. If you don’t want to preserve those features, you could simply save the JPEG and then opt not to save the “second” time.

More Detail: There are a variety of features you can leverage in Photoshop that are not supported by a JPEG image file. For example, you can’t save a 16-bit per channel image as a JPEG. JPEG images also can’t include layers, saved selections, alpha channels, among certain other limitations.

If you have an image open that includes features not supported by the JPEG image format, you can generally still save the image as a JPGE. For example, let’s assume you are working with an image in the 16-bit per channel mode. You can still choose File > Save As from the menu and save the image as a JPEG, and that JPEG file will automatically be created in the 8-bit per channel mode.

But after saving that JPEG file, the image in Photoshop will still be the 16-bit per channel image you had been working with. Therefore, after saving a JPEG copy and closing the image in Photoshop, you’ll be prompted to save the image because at that point the full image (or the changes you’ve applied if the image had been previously saved) will not have been saved.

So, just because you’ve saved a JPEG copy of the image doesn’t mean you’ve saved all features of the image you’re working with. When that situation exists, Photoshop tries to make sure you’re not losing any unsaved changes based on the lack of support for certain features with JPEG images.

Distant Depth of Field

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Today’s Question: How much should I stop down my lens aperture if I want to achieve optimal depth of field when photographing with a long lens from a long distance from a landscape?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When photographing a scene from a considerable distance, you might be surprised at how much depth of field you can achieve even if you don’t stop the lens aperture down much (or at all). When focusing at a distance of about one-quarter of a mile with a 200mm lens, for example, stopping down to f/8 will provide a depth of field that covers the full scene all the way to infinity.

More Detail: This was a question asked by a workshop participant while we were atop Steptoe Butte in the Palouse region of eastern Washington State. That means we were about one thousand feet above the surrounding terrain. Even assuming you are focusing on a portion of the scene relatively close to the base of the butte, your focus point would still be about one-quarter of a mile or so. If you were using a 200mm focal length, at f/8 you could have everything from about 500 yards to infinity in focus.

I think many photographers who have experience with landscape photography tend to think it is always necessary to stop down to f/16 or f/22 to achieve any significant depth of field for a scene. When using a lens with a longer focal length, of course depth of field becomes a more significant concern. But when you are focusing at a considerable distance, you will have greater depth of field. I often find photographers are surprised at just how much depth of field they will achieve when focusing from far away, even with a long lens.

When you combine a distant focus point with a longer lens that will be capturing a relatively narrow field of view, there’s a good chance that even with a relatively shallow depth of field you will still be able to have the full scene in focus. For example, even a 500mm lens focusing at a distance of about one-quarter mile will provide a depth of field that is about 500 feet deep. That may very well provide adequate depth of field for the full scene, considering the narrow field of view with a 500mm lens.

When focusing close, such as with macro photography, getting enough depth of field can be a challenge. But when focusing from a considerable distance, you may be surprised at just how much depth of field you can achieve, even without stopping down the lens significantly.

Optimal ISO

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Today’s Question: Another photographer wrote that using 100 ISO, if possible, is better than 200 ISO as a standard choice. Do you agree?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In many (perhaps most) cases, it is better to use 100 ISO rather than 200 ISO. However, it is important to note that the lowest ISO setting is not always the best option for every camera, in part because the lowest ISO is not necessarily the same as the base ISO.

More Detail: The image sensor in a given camera has a native sensitivity to light. You can think of this in very general terms as the result you would achieve with no amplification applied to the signal recorded by the sensor. When you raise the ISO setting, you are under-exposing the image and then amplification is applied to effectively brighten the resulting image. The result of this amplification will be some degree of noise. A greater increase in ISO setting will generally yield a greater amount of noise.

It seems logical that the lowest ISO setting should, in theory, provide the least amount of noise, since the lowest ISO setting presumably involves less amplification. However, the lowest ISO setting is not necessarily the base ISO setting. Reducing below the base ISO setting can reduce dynamic range, which can also affect overall image quality.

For optimal image quality, it is generally best to use the base ISO for your camera. In many cases this will be 100 or 200 ISO, depending on the specific camera you’re using. So, if your camera’s native ISO is 100, then you can expect better overall image quality at 100 rather than 200 ISO. If the native ISO for your camera is 200, then you may see reduced noise at 100 ISO, but you could also expect reduced dynamic range.

So, as a general rule, using the native ISO will produce the least noise with the maximum dynamic range, all other things being equal. It is important to note, however, that it can often be preferred to have a little more noise caused by an increased ISO setting, rather than having motion blur in the image caused by a shutter speed that is too slow.

Color Labels for Folders

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Today’s Question: I saw in a recent Lightroom [Classic CC] update that you can add a color to a folder. Do you recommend using this feature, and if so how?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I do think the new ability to add a color label to individual folders can be a great help in a workflow for organizing photos in Lightroom Classic CC. You can see this new feature in action on my Tim Grey TV channel on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/FE6q1MASRhQ

More Detail: It has long been possible to add star ratings and color labels to your photos, such as to identify favorite photos. With a couple of recent updates to Lightroom Classic CC, you now have similar options for folders.

The “Favorite” feature for folders is essentially a star rating for a folder, but without the ability to assign a set number of stars. A folder is either marked as a favorite (with a star), or not marked as a favorite. Color labels are similar, except that you have the full range of color label options available for folders.

I have been using the “Favorite” feature to literally identify folders that contain images I’m most likely to use in the near term. I can then filter the folder list to see only the favorites, in order to more quickly find the specific folder I’m looking for.

The color label adds some new possibilities in the context of organizing your folders. For example, I’ve started assigning a red color label to folders that I have not yet completed a full review of my photos. For example, while leading a photo workshop in the Palouse region of eastern Washington State, I simply didn’t have enough time to properly sort through my photos each night. So instead I marked the folder for that trip with a red color label to clearly identify it as a folder I need to go back and review.

As with the “Favorite” feature, you can filter folders to only show those that have a color label assigned to them. At least for the current version of Lightroom Classic CC you aren’t able to filter by a specific color label for the folder list, but even being able to filter the list to only those that contain a color label (versus no color label) is very helpful in my view.

You can get a better sense of how the color label and “Favorite” features work for folders in Lightroom Classic CC in a sample lesson from my “Lightroom Quick Tips” course from GreyLearning, which we have published to my YouTube channel here:

https://youtu.be/FE6q1MASRhQ

Synchronized Deletion

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Today’s Question: What happens when I delete a synchronized photo [in Lightroom]? Is it deleted everywhere? Generally I want to keep my photos on my home computer, where I do my own backups. I don’t want to store them in the cloud. If I delete them on my phone, what happens on my PC?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you are using the cloud-based Lightroom CC, deleting a photo from any device will cause that photo to be permanently deleted from every device, including your computer at home. If you are using Lightroom Classic CC (as is the case here), deleting a photo from a synchronized location (rather than the original) will only remove the synchronized copies, and will not delete your original photo.

More Detail: Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC are very similar (and somewhat interactive) when it comes to synchronizing photos. That said, there is a fundamental difference between the two in terms of how synchronization happens.

With Lightroom CC, all of your original photos are synchronized to the cloud, and available on all devices via the Lightroom CC application on a computer, app on a mobile device, or web browser through the Lightroom site (https://lightroom.adobe.com/).

Because Lightroom CC is synchronizing all of your original photos, the idea is that the cloud-based storage becomes your primary storage. Therefore, when you delete a photo that is synchronized via Lightroom CC from any platform that enables you to access those photos, all copies of that photo will be deleted. In other words, the photo will no longer be available anywhere unless you have a separate backup copy.

With Lightroom Classic CC, synchronization involves proxies of your photos rather than the original source images. Therefore, deleting from a mobile device, web browser, or copy in a collection will not cause the original source capture to be deleted. Keep in mind, of course, that with the Lightroom Classic CC desktop application it is indeed possible to delete the original source image file, which would cause that photo to be removed from all locations, such as a synchronized collection.

It is important for photographers to understand the fundamental differences between Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC, so they can both make a decision about which option is better suited to their workflow, and also be sure they are using an appropriate workflow for managing their photos.

Pixel Size on Sensor

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Today’s Question: I’m thinking of switching from a full frame camera to the micro four-thirds format. If the sensors have equivalent pixel count, how is image quality affected by the smaller pixel size of the four-thirds sensor when compared to the larger pixels of a full-size sensor.

Tim’s Quick Answer: While a smaller individual pixel size on the sensor improves the ability to resolve fine detail, the bigger concern would be the increase in noise (and reduced dynamic range) that results from the smaller pixel size.

More Detail: Technically, of course, the sensor doesn’t actually have pixels, but rather photo sites that gather an electrical charge based on the amount of light striking each photo site during the exposure.

In order to compare the size of the individual photo sites, you need to consider both the overall resolution of the sensor (generally presented as how many millions of pixels, or megapixels, the sensor captures) as well as the overall dimensions of the sensor. With increased resolution or decreased sensor size, individual photo sites of course need to be smaller.

As you can probably appreciate, smaller photo sites represent greater relative resolution, which translates into a greater ability to resolve fine detail. So you could reasonably expect a camera that employs a sensor with smaller individual photo sites to render greater overall detail in a photo.

However, the problem with smaller photo sites is that less information can be recorded by each individual photo site. In the context of a photographic image, the information being captured is light. So you’re capturing less light with a smaller photo site than you could with a larger photo site.

Capturing less light means the sensor will capture less dynamic range, increasing the risk of clipping for highlight or shadow detail. In addition, less light gathered will require greater amplification, which in turn will result in more noise in the final photo.

There are obviously many other variables involved, so you can’t automatically assume that a smaller sensor will result in greater noise. But as a general rule, you can expect a sensor with a higher density of photo sites to provide decreased dynamic range and increased noise, all other things being equal.

I would, of course, recommend evaluating individual camera models when it comes to overall capture performance. Some sensors (and overall camera systems) are better than others when it comes to maximizing the amount of information that can be gathered in a photographic exposure while minimizing the amount of noise.

Selective Cloud Synchronization

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Today’s Question: Can I choose which photos that I want to add to the LR CC cloud-based storage? For example, can I select photos, place them in a folder or folders that I want to be added to the LR CC cloud-based storage?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The cloud-based Lightroom CC will synchronize every photo you import, so the only way to limit synchronization is to only import photos you want to have synchronized. If you use Lightroom Classic CC, by comparison, only photos you add to collections that have synchronization enabled will actually be synchronized to the cloud.

More Detail: When Adobe launched Lightroom CC (and renamed the existing product to Lightroom Classic CC), one of the key differences between the two versions of Lightroom related to synchronization.

With Lightroom CC all photos you import into your catalog are automatically synchronized to the cloud. That means that every single photo you import will be available (in its original form) from virtually anywhere. You can access all of those photos from another installation of Lightroom CC, from a mobile device using the Lightroom CC mobile app, or from a web browser by going to https://lightroom.adobe.com.

With Lightroom Classic CC, the same basic synchronization feature exists, but is implemented differently. Instead of synchronizing all photos, only those photos contained within a collection that has synchronization enabled will actually be synchronized.

To me, the differences in synchronization between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC provide the key differentiator between the two. In other words, in my mind this is the feature photographers should focus on when choosing between the two versions of Lightroom.

If you want to always have all of your photos available to you from virtually anywhere, Lightroom CC might be the best choice for you. If you prefer to have all of your photos stored locally (such as on an external hard drive), and you only want to synchronize a relatively small portion of your images to review from anywhere or share with others, then Lightroom Classic CC might be the better fit.

Unsupported Raw Captures

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Today’s Question: I have just purchased and am shooting with a Canon 5D Mark IV camera. I loved it until I went to download the raw files into Lightroom only to find that I am unable to! Any fixes or a way to get around this?!

Tim’s Quick Answer: Your camera (along with many newer camera models) is supported by Lightroom. So your issue would suggest that either you aren’t using an updated version of Lightroom, or that you’re running into an issue where the Creative Cloud application doesn’t show you that updates are available.

More Detail: When a new camera model is released, there’s a good chance that the new camera will make use of a new raw capture format. That, in turn, means that you’ll need to update your software to a version that supports the new raw capture format. If you don’t have support for the latest raw capture format, there are three issues that may result.

First, of course, it is possible that the software you’re using has not yet been updated to support the new capture format. If that’s the case, you’ll either need to use different software (such as that provided by your camera manufacturer) or simply wait until the software you use is updated. In this case, however, Lightroom has indeed been updated to support the Canon 5D Mark IV.

The second issue would be a need to update Lightroom to a new version that supports the new raw capture format. In general this would involve going to the Apps tab of the Creative Cloud application, where you should find an indication that there is a new version of Lightroom available and ready to be installed. If so, you can click the “Update” button associated with Lightroom to install the new version. You can also access updates by choosing Help > Updates from the menu within Lightroom.

The third possibility is that you are running into an issue where new updates are not listed for you in the Creative Cloud application. If so, one of the solutions provided on Adobe’s support website will hopefully solve your issue. You can find the details of recommended solutions on Adobe’s website here:

https://helpx.adobe.com/creative-cloud/kb/creative-cloud-application-recognizing-available.html