So without further ado here are the details of the cameras, accessories and computer software that I use on a regular basis.
CamerasObviously for a photography blog the camera is probably the most important piece of equipment. I currently own two digital cameras and both have been used to take photos for this blog.
- Sony DSC-F828
- My main camera, and the first digital camera we bought, is a Sony DSC-F828. This is an 8 mega pixel camera with a 4 colour CCD and a 7x optical zoom. At the time we bought it, it was about as good a camera as you could buy without it being a full blown DSLR. It has many of the options you would expect from a professional camera (RAW support, full manual exposure control, white balance, exposure compensation ...) without the price tag. This is the camera that I use most and which has taken the majority of the photos on this blog. It's one flaw is it's size and weight; it's just that bit too bulky to carry with me at all times (e.g. on the way to and from work every day) or if I'm flying with just hand luggage.
- Fujifilm FinePix A900
- The camera that I have on me nearly all the time and that I take away with me when flying with only hand luggage is a Fujifilm FinePix A900 that I bought a few years ago in the duty free shop at Manchester Airport! This is a 9 mega pixel camera with a x4 optical zoom and compared to the Sony this is more of a toy than a serious camera. It has almost no manual options just a few scene modes that allow you to control the exposure to some extent. Fortunately it actually takes reasonable quality photos and is small enough to drop in my pocket. I've only used this camera for a few photos on this blog but I'm sure there will be more in the future.
- Raynox DCR-2025PRO
- The main problem with the Sony camera is that the optical zoom is only x7. This limits, quite significantly, the photos I can take; wildlife photos are almost impossible as I can't get close enough to the subject to get a reasonable photo. The Raynox DCR-2025PRO makes the camera more versatile by providing a x2.2 optical modifier; combined with the digital zoom of the camera this widens the scope of the camera quite dramatically (I provided a thorough write-up of this lens, along with some sample photos, when I first bought it). There are only a few photos on this blog that use this lens adaptor at the moment, but I'm sure this will change over time.
- Raynox DCR-250
- The macro function on the Sony DSC-F828 is pretty good. It lets me get very close to an object and yet still be able to focus the camera. The only problem is that it only works if you set the zoom level to x1. This means that very small items still appear small in the photos even though I am close to them. A good example of this problem can be seen in the post about the Harlequin Ladybird. The Raynox DCR-250 super macro lens solves this problem and opens up a new range of photographic opportunities. Not only does it provide a 8 diopter magnification but it is designed to work best when the camera is at it's highest magnification (x7 or x14 with the smart digital zoom). I haven't used this lens much yet so there are currently only a few photos on this blog that use this lens adaptor.
- 3-Axis Hot-Shoe Spirit Level
- Keeping the camera level between successive shots can be quite important, especially if you are intending to produce a panoramic or stereoscopic image. It isn't just situations where you are taking multiple shots that benefit from keeping the camera level -- landscapes nearly always look better if the horizon is kept level! To solve this problem I have a dirt cheap 3-axis spirit level that clips into the flash hot-shoe off the camera. You can read a longer discussion of this topic in a previous post on this blog.
- Shutter Release Cable
- Camera shake can be a serious problem, especially when taking shots using a long zoom. One way of minimising camera shake is to make sure you aren't touching the camera when you take the photo by using a cable release; a button on the end of a longish wire! This isn't an option on the FinePix A900 but the Sony DSC-F828 supports the use of a cable release, specifically the Sony RM-VD1.
SoftwareI try and avoid relying on software to touch up my photos and prefer to get the shot right instead. Having said that, there are a number of bits of software that I use frequently when preparing the photos for this blog.
- Corel PaintShop Pro
- The main piece of software I use when editing/preparing the photos for this blog is Corel's PaintShop Pro as it contains most of the features I need for editing and touching up photos including support for producing HDR images.
- The JPEG format is lossy. This means that every time you re-save an image some of the detail is lost. One of more common things I find myself doing is cropping photos to remove some unwanted aspect or to focus in tighter on the subject. Given the way JPEG files are storred it is in fact possible to crop them without having to re-encode and hence without losing any detail. I use a program called JPEGCrops to crop my photos before doing any further editing with PaintShop Pro. Not only is JPEGCrops a useful program it is also free!
- Microsoft ICE
- I like taking panoramic photos and I've tried lots of different pieces of software for stitching the individual frames together to produce the final images. By far the easiest to use is a piece of free, research software from Microsoft called Image Composite Editor or ICE for short. It is easy to use, provides some control over the way the images are stitched and is probably the fastest piece of stitching software I've tried.
- Microsoft ICE is free, easy to use, and provides only limited control over the stitching process -- PTAssembler is the exact opposite. It does have a fully automatic mode which usually produces good results, but it's real strength is that it allows you manual control over every step of the process of stitching the photos together, right down to the position of control points. If you have a panorama that ICE can't stitch properly then you can probably rescue the situation using PTAssembler. The only down side is that it isn't free, but at $45 it isn't going to break the bank either.
- I use PhotoGrid for arranging multiple images into a grid like fashion for display on this blog. I usually do this when I want to show the different exposures used in a HDR image, you can see a good example on the Ingelborough post. Given that I actually wrote PhotoGrid it tends to do what I want it to! It is freely available and if you find it useful or have features you would like to see added then please let me know.
- For aligning photos to create 3D photos I use another piece of software that I developed called 3DAssembler. It supports a number of different 3D formats, has an auto layout mode which 'usually' works and is free to use.