Info. on camera and color - plus new gadget

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Posted by Dick Analog on May 11, 2005 at 17:12:14:

In Reply to: Nice Color posted by Mojo Mike on May 11, 2005 at 15:15:26:

Hi, Mike:

Here's the lowdown on my current camera setup.

In anticipation of our upcoming vacation to Maui, I decided to augment my little point-and-shoot camera with some extra horsepower in the illumination department. I bought a (relatively) inexpensive external strobe that fires, via fiber-optic cable, off the built-in flash of the camera itself. I used this setup for the first time (underwater) on our trip to Anacapa.

I'm still debating how best to upgrade my UW photo system with a full-blown digital, or film setup, but can't seem to get past the film vs. digital issue. I see (and really appreciate) all the practical advantages that digital offers, but in my mind, digital can't get past what I call the 'garibaldi test'. It seems to me that digital cameras can't do justice to the intense coloration of our little orange friends - they always seem to come out looking kind of weird in digital images. But a nicely-exposed film image of a garibaldi picks up the subtle variations in texture and coloration that these beautiful fish have in real life. I borrowed an UW film camera for one single dive, and took better pictures of garibaldi than I've ever seen come out of digital cameras.

But, I digress. Instead of forking out lots of $$$ right now for the 'system of my dreams', I decided to see how far I could go with my current system. The purpose of getting the external strobe was to 1) tame the extreme backscatter that is characteristic of little point-and-shoots which have their flash units aligned very close to the lens, and 2) get a little more illumination for wider angle shots. And how did things turn out? Well, as of today I'd be very hesitant to recommend this kind of setup to anyone else. I guess I should have anticipated how difficult it would be to deal with so many variables that affect proper exposure, while using a camera that you have absolutely no control over. That includes varying distance, diffuser/no diffuser, and strobe power, while not being able to set the shutter speed or aperture. Some of the pictures I posted from our Anacapa trip turned out OK, but the real story is that I took over 200 images and those were the only ones that were rescuable. Virtually every image was over- or under-exposed. The only images I could fix were those that are mildly under-exposed. And that was only because of what I learned from processing digital astronomy images: as long as the pixels are not completely saturated, all the data needed for making an acceptable image have been captured and just need to be adjusted in some fashion. So that's exactly what I did - digitally brightened the mildly under-exposed images. If you had seen the original flash images posted here on the BBS, they would all have appeared quite dim. It's kind of a sad story, no?

But I'm going to see what I can make of it. I've been taking lots and lots of practice shots around the house with this UW setup, trying to get a better feel for how best to handle all the variables over which I do have control. My poor cats have been blasted so many times with the strobe, they now run away when they see me coming with camera in hand.

Strobe-assisted or not, here's how I process images before posting them on the BBS. First I run all images through filtering software recommended by 'the good Aaron' on this BBS; it's called Neat Image and it removes a lot of the electronic noise characteristic of digital (including scanned) images. Then I run the images through some freebie software that came with the camera (I can't remember its name, but I'm sure that most cameras come with something similar). The freebie software does a good job of brightening under-exposed images and even takes care of a lot of the color un-balances characteristic of underwater photos. I then re-size the image for posting, and do a final sharpening (again, with the freebie software). I actually have a full-blown installation of Adobe Photoshop running on a Macintosh, which I use (by necessity) for my astronomy images, but every time I even think about using Photoshop my head starts to hurt. I'm glad that the freebie software does such a good job on the UW images.

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