Q and A: How can I keep my camera and lens dry in the rain?

Question

We’re getting a lot of rain and wet snow this spring, so I’m wondering how that will affect my new ultra high-tech digital SLR. Would the camera be damaged by moisture? If so, what should I do if it rains every weekend? I really want to get outside and start experimenting. K.W.

Answer

Well, that depends on the camera – as well as the lens – that you’re using. The vast majority of equipment does need protection from moisture, particularly rain. Some DSLRs and certain lenses are weather-resistant as discussed in the features chart for such products on the manufacturer’s web site. These include Nikon and Canon’s professional products, the high-end Pentax DSLRs and a few lenses of various brands. No flash unit (including a built-in flash) is weather resistant, however. Even the most hardy pro-equipment should not be used for extended periods in heavy rain, of course.

If you are primarily interested in experimenting with camera features, you might consider shooting from your car; open the window but make sure the camera/lens will not get wet. Dry off any dampness thoroughly with a clean, absorbent cotton cloth; for the lens use a large microfibre cloth. But if you’ll be shooting outdoors, you’ll need a rain cover accessory. Regardless of the one you buy, read the manufacturer’s instructions re: correct installation (and any warnings) to get the most effective protection.

You can find inexpensive products – similar to clear plastic bags – such as the Op/Tech or Ewa Marine Rainsleeve (about $22 from Amazon; about $17 from B&H).

These may be OK in drizzle but for longer outings in rain you’ll want at least a Kata Elements Cover such as the E-702 for a DSLR with short lens (about $60 from Amazon; about $60 from B&H).

Kata also makes accessories for protecting a longer lens and an external shoe-mounted flash unit. Visit B&H or Amazon for information on the Kata products.

Kata's Elements Covers, such as the E702, are the most popular among the affordable accessories. Two sleeves allow access to camera controls and a transparent back allows for viewing the LCD screen and viewfinder.



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Q and A: What are the pros and cons of the super high capacity SDXC memory cards?

Question

I read a blurb on the Internet about the new Class 10 SDXC cards in several brands. This type of memory card sounds perfect: super fast and tons of capacity at 64 gigabytes. Why would anyone want to use any other kind of SD card, except for the high price of the SDXC card? G.R.

Answer

That was certainly interesting news, and the first Extended Capacity cards will be available sometime this spring: Panasonic’s Gold SDXC and SanDisk’s Ultra SDXC. (Other brands, in various speed classes will follow.)

Do note, however, that the Panasonic cards boast a Class 10 speed rating while the SanDisk SDXC cards are Class 4 rated, or not as fast. The SanDisk  64GB card is less expensive however, approximately $350 versus $600 for the Panasonic product.

The new 64 gigabyte SDXC cards are impressive but the SDHC cards are available in Class 10 speed too (in several brands) and in capacities up to 32 GB, plenty for most photo and video enthusiasts.
The new 64 gigabyte SDXC cards are impressive but the SDHC cards are available in Class 10 speed too (in several brands) and in capacities up to 32 GB, plenty for most photo and video enthusiasts.

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Q and A: What is the best type of tripod to use when shooting in video mode with a DSLR camera?

Question

What kind of a tripod do I need when shooting video clips with my new Nikon D300S? The old tripod that I own is too small and I’m sure I need something better. I’d want one that’s also useful when shooting regular photos but I’d prefer not to pay more than $150. Dawn K.

Answer

That’s a good question, Dawn, but you should also be wondering about the type of tripod head to use. Granted, you may buy a tripod kit that includes a head, but it will probably be a conventional pan/tilt or ball head. Either is perfect for taking still photos but neither is ideal for shooting movies, as I’ll explain in a moment. So, you will probably need two tripod heads; perhaps your old one will be adequate for some purposes.

Start by finding a rigid tripod that is tall enough – without extending the centre post by much – so you don’t need to bend too far down. Extending the centre post too far will really minimize rigidity. Regardless of the size, look for one that is rated for supporting at least 8 lbs. of weight. (more…)

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Q and A: Why does my camera produce severe underexposure in dark locations?

Question

Can you help me solve the exposure problem with my new digital SLR camera? It’s fine when I use the fully automatic modes. But I tried taking photos in a church during a wedding (without flash) and all my photos were underexposed. I was using ISO 400 and set the shutter speed to 1/500 sec. in Shutter Priority mode to make sure the photos would be sharp. But they are all too dark. D.M.

Answer

This is also a common problem among students in my BetterPhoto courses when they first try night photography. The answer is simple, but you need to fully appreciate how this semi-automatic mode works. (more…)

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Q and A: What’s the deal with the new cameras lacking pentaprisms and reflex mirrors?

Question

What is the advantage of the new cameras without a pentraprism and a reflex mirror … like the Micro models from Panasonic and Olympus, and the Samsung NX? Is the benefit simply smaller size versus a Digital SLR? In that case, why wouldn’t someone just buy a smaller camera like the Canon Powershot G11 which also has a built-in viewfinder? R.N.

Answer

The primary appeal of the “mirrorless” or “non-reflex” cameras – and their new petite lenses – is certainly the greater portability. Of course there are some intangibles as well with the latest Micro Four-Thirds cameras: the Lumix GF1 and particularly the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2. These models are very classy and they feature rangefinder-like styling, which appeals to many camera buyers. (See my Olympus E-P1 Review: Field Test Report  ) But let’s discuss some of the other important aspects to clarify additional issues.

As this illustration of the Lumix DMC-GF1 versus the Lumix L10 DSLR indicates, a Micro Four-Thirds camera can be much smaller than a DSLR especially if it omits a viewfinder. Since the lenses are also smaller, the entire package is substantially more portable.
As this illustration of the Lumix DMC-GF1 versus the Lumix L10 DSLR confirms that a a Micro Four-Thirds camera can be much smaller than a DSLR especially if it omits a viewfinder. Since the lenses are also smaller, the entire package is substantially more portable.



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Q and A: I’m getting a new PC. Do I need 8GB of Ram, or is 2GB enough?

Question

I am planning to buy a new PC with Windows 7, but should I pay extra for 8 GB of Ram instead of 2 GB? It’s not too expensive and I assume it would make my computer faster. Is that correct? L.H.

Answer

Upgrading a new PC with extra Ram can help boost some aspects of performance but note the following. The conventional 32-bit version of Windows 7 can utilize only 4 GB of RAM (actually, only about 3.4GB). If you buy a new PC (with 64-bit CPU) with 8 GB of Ram, the vendor should install the 64-bit edition of Windows 7. Check out the various versions of this OS on the Microsoft website.

A fast new PC with a 64-bit CPU and a 64-bit edition of Windows 7 can have some benefits, but also some drawbacks.
A fast new PC with a 64-bit CPU and a 64-bit edition of Windows 7 can have some benefits, but also some drawbacks.



Note: The upgrade to a 64-bit system will cause compatibility problems re: drivers for some hardware you already own and for some software programs as discussed on this Windows forum. (more…)

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Q and A: Raw capture mode is confusing. Can you help?

Question

I need some advice about using RAW capture mode. I have just started shooting in RAW mode but after some research on the Internet, I still have some questions about RAW. Why won’t Photoshop CS3 or Elements 7 open and convert the RAW files from my EOS T1i? Also, when using the Canon DPP software, should I save the photos to an 8-bit Tif or a 16-bit Tif. L.V.

Answer

The software that’s bundled with any DSLR certainly supports the unique RAW format produced by that camera. However, versions of Photoshop that are older than CS4 – such as CS3 – do not support the newer cameras’ formats.

That’s because Adobe ceased supporting the older versions. Both Elements 6 and 7 do support the RAW files produced by most of the recent cameras, including the T1i. Anyone who cannot open a RAW file with Elements 6 or 7 will need to download and install the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in version 5.5. See Adobe for the download and for installation instructions. (Photoshop CS4 owners should note that they may also need version 5.5 or later.)

All versions of Photoshop Elements - since version 6 - can support all of the latest DSLRs' RAW formats. Of course, with newer cameras, that may require installing the latest version of the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in.  ©2009 Peter K. Burian
All versions of Photoshop Elements - since version 6 - can support all of the latest DSLRs' RAW formats. Of course, with newer cameras, that may require installing the latest version of the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in. ©2009 Peter K. Burian

The default with any RAW converter is 8-bit per channel color depth when converting to the TIFF format from a RAW file. Most converter programs also allow you to select 16-bit TIFF. (more…)

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What kind of software should I use to edit the movies I make with my Digital SLR camera?

Question

What software is necessary for editing movies made with a Digital SLR camera? I own a Nikon D5000 and have shot over a dozen videos. Many of the movies look great but others need some work. I hope you can tell me which editing software I should buy. R.H.

Answer

Digital SLRs (including the D5000) with a Movie mode, record videos in Motion JPEG format and store it in a QuickTime MOV or an AVI file. This is a very common format that can be viewed on any computer with familiar software (some free) such as QuickTime, Windows Media player or Flash Player. A Motion JPEG file can also be uploaded to websites such as YouTube and Vimeo.com. No software is required to view the videos on an HD TV with HDMI connection, using an optional HDMI cable.

A Motion JPEG file can be uploaded as is to sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.com. On the other hand, some other file types, such as AVCHD, must first be converted to a format that's supported by the site.  ©2009 Peter K. Burian
A Motion JPEG file can be uploaded as is to sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.com. On the other hand, some other file types, such as AVCHD, must first be converted to a format that's supported by the site. ©2009 Peter K. Burian


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Q and A: What kind of lighting should I use for macro nature photography?

Question

I have started macro nature photography using a new Nikon 85 mm f/3.5G VR Macro lens on my Nikon D90 camera. What is best in terms of lighting? Should I use a shoe-mounted flash unit with a downward tilt, or a ring flash, or a bracket with two arms, each holding a separate flash unit? H. H.

Answer

In my experience, on-camera flash is not suitable for extreme close-up photography. The flash may not be able to light the bottom part of the subject in extreme close-focus image making. That’s because it does not allow for an adequate downward tilt and the lens barrel may block some of the light. If you do want to use a conventional flash unit, move it off-camera using a TTL extension cable or Wireless Off Camera Flash (if your camera supports the latter.) For softer lighting add a large diffuser accessory such as the Lumiquest Softbox III. (See this item at B&H ; See this item at Amazon Lumiquest The Softbox III – Lumiquest LQ-119)

The latest macro ring lights – such as the Metz 15 MS-1 that I recently tested – are very versatile and easy to use. They typically consist of a circular mechanism that’s mounted on the front of a macro lens with an adapter ring. The “ring” – with two individual flash tubes – can be rotated so you can place the two light sources at the desired position. The Metz kit (and some others) also includes a diffuser accessory that’s useful in extremely close focus work. (See the Metz unit at B&H; see this item at Amazon Metz MZ 15110 Digital Macro Slave (Black)) (more…)

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Q and A: What’s the difference between the new Sigma 10-20 mm f/3.5 lens and the original?

Question

Is there really a difference in performance and innovation between the new Sigma 10-20 mm f/3.5 and the original 10-20mm f/4 lens. The latter is much more affordable. Is the difference of several hundred dollars justified? R. P.

Answer

Yes, the newer model is more expensive (though only by $170), but do note that the maximum aperture is a constant f/3.5 at all focal lengths. The other Sigma 10-20mm zoom does not have a constant maximum aperture; it’s an f/4-5.6 lens. In other words, the widest aperture is quite similar at very short focal lengths, but with the older lens, it diminishes to a smaller f/5.6 as you zoom toward the 20mm end.

That is the primary benefit of the 10-20mm f/3.5 lens and it would be important for photographers who often shoot in low light, without flash or a tripod. Granted, even f/3.5 is not an extremely wide aperture and we often shoot at f/11 to f/16 with an ultra wide angle lens (for extensive depth of field). On the other hand, the wider aperture at longer zoom settings can make the difference between the need to use ISO 800 (at f/3.5) versus ISO 1600 (at f/5.6) in a very dark location. And as you know, every camera produces superior image quality at a lower sensitivity setting.

If you don’t often shoot in very low light, the good news is that the original Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens is excellent; you should be perfectly happy with that model. It’s also smaller and 8 ounces lighter (because of the smaller maximum apertures) and accepts smaller/more affordable 77mm vs. 82mm filters.

Granted the more expensive f/3.5 lens has some other benefits. (more…)

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