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Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Night Photography: How to Take Better Shots in the Dark


Vivid is underway once again in Sydney, it’s great excuse to grab your camera and see the iconic Opera House as well as the Sydney Harbour Bridge brought to life with lights.

Once the sun dips below the horizon it is an ideal time to experiment with night photography and explore the city in search of creative inspiration.

Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or just starting to explore your new camera, we can all agree there’s just something about taking photographs at night.

Of course, with darkness and inspiration comes a whole new challenge; how to capture it.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up for Vivid.
The advice you get can vary and, depending on who you ask, it can be kind of daunting. But fear not! We’re here to shed some light on this interesting little topic.

The short answer is: If you have a camera with some manual control options, and a tripod you should be able to capture some great shots at night.

Let’s Set the Scene

First things first, we need to put our camera into one of the following modes with the control dial.

The mode dial on a Canon 70D
M (Manual Exposure) mode or S (Shutter Speed Priority) mode, this is the TV (Time Value) mode on Canon and Pentax cameras.

Slow that Shutter Speed

As the name suggests, your shutter speed controls how quickly the shutter opens and closes, in other words; how long your camera takes a photo for.

It can range from a fraction of a second to 30 seconds or longer. A picture captured with a slow shutter speed is a long exposure.

Movement can create light trails with long shutter speeds, like this ferry in front of the Opera House at Vivid 
At night, we need to capture as much light as possible, so slow shutter speeds are essential because they allow more light to collect on the sensor.

There is a downside to using long shutter speeds though, even the slightest camera movement can result in image blur. This makes slow shutter speeds less-than-ideal for handheld shooting.

Still confused about what a shutter speed is and how to use it?

Hold your Composure

Shooting handheld can be tough. Some cameras and lenses have image stabilisation or vibration compensation built-in to make it a little easier. Turn this on to for better handheld shots.

If you don’t have stabilisation and you're using a standard kit lens zoomed out, chances are you probably won’t get a sharp shot with a shutter speed slower than 1/30th of a second.

That said, everyone’s a little different, some people can held their camera steady long enough to get a sharp shot with a shutter speed as slow as 1/4 of a second.

A 24mm focal length shot handheld with a shutter speed of 1/4 is passable, but at 1 second blur comes into play.
How slow can you go? We highly recommend you try this with friends, it can get pretty competitive!

What is Better Than Two Legs?

Night photography becomes a lot easier once you add a particular piece of gear to your kit.

You can probably guess what we’re going to suggest, yep it’s the humble 3-legged tripodBe wary of anyone trying to sell you a two legged tripod though, they don’t exist for a reason.

A tripod allows you to compose your shot and then keeps your camera steady allowing you to use much slower shutter speeds than you can when shooting handheld.
Shooting with a tripod can dramatically increase the sharpness of your image when using long shutter speeds.
There are lots of different things to consider when getting a tripod like do you prefer an aluminium or carbon fibre construction, and what kind of tripod head do you want.


Would you prefer a ball head that is quicker to setup or a 3 axis head that allows you to frame your shot with more precision.

You can find out more about choosing the right tripod here in our blog.

Strange but True: When on a tripod you should turn image stabilisation off, which seems wrong but trust us you’ll get sharper shots with your vibration reduction turned off.Image stabilisation is designed to move your sensor or lens to compensate for bumps and shakes but when your camera is locked down and stable on a tripod this can actually do more harm than good.

Open the Aperture

Another way to get more light on the sensor is to open the aperture or f-stop of your lens, by selecting the smallest or lowest f number available on your lens.

Each lens is different and most kit lenses that come with DSLRs have a max aperture of around f/3.5 which is nothing to sneeze at, but the best lenses for low-light usually have a maximum aperture of around f/2.8 to f/1.4 like these lenses from Nikon and Canon.

The aperture of a lens is the iris inside that expands and contracts to control light levels.
By setting the aperture on your camera to the lowest f-number the lens can open wide, just like the iris in your eye.

To learn more about aperture check out this previous DCW blog for more info.

Increase the ISO

Let’s say you’re shooting handheld so you can’t set the shutter speed any slower and your lens aperture is already wide open, don’t despair there is another option to get brighter shots.

You can increase the ISO, which ramps up the light sensitivity of your camera by increasing the voltage of the image sensor. 

A general rule of thumb when setting your ISO is the lower the better, but in a pinch, it can deliver a boost.

The downside to ISO is that the higher you crank it, the more noise and grain your image will show. 
A high ISO setting can create noise in your image.
High ISO does not a good image make, but sometimes you may have to compromise a little on image quality to get the shot.

Your image might look fine on the back of your camera but zoom in to check for grain.
Check out this DCW article on ISO if you want to know more about how ISO affects your photos.

Hands off the Merchandise

Once you’ve got some exposure settings your happy with and you’ve spent some time lining up the perfect composition it’s time to take the picture, but not so quick, there is one more thing to think about.

When shooting a long exposure even the smallest bump, like when you press the shutter button, can be the difference between a stunning nightscape of the city lights and a smudge of blurry lights.
Photographer Teh Rei demonstrating her tripod setup for Vivid
A post shared by Teh Rei (@tehrei) on
We recommend using a cable release or remote, so that you can trigger your camera without touching it.

You can also use the timer on your camera, which should be located somewhere on your camera’s drive function if you don’t mind waiting.

Extra Tips and Equipment

Manual Focus – Your camera's autofocus will probably struggle in the dark, so you might have to switch to manual focus. When focusing manually the live view mode of your camera combined with a focus magnifier function can be super useful. Check your camera’s manual to see how to access this feature if you have it.

Lens cloths – Pack, at least 2 or 3 in your kit, especially if you’ll be out for a few hours, I kid you not. Often when you’re out after sunset, you’ll notice the temperature drop. So will your lens. This can be accompanied by increased ambient moisture, so condensation may build-up on your front element.

Be sure to check and dry your lens frequently, especially when doing long exposures where every second counts. (Seriously, it does.)

Extra Batteries – It’s a good idea to grab a spare battery when you first buy your camera, but it’s especially important when photographing at night.

Long shutter speeds chew through batteries much faster than normal and it’s not just the long exposures. Cold temperatures can also drain battery life, dramatically decreasing the amount of time you’ll get to take photos.

Hot Tip: To prolong battery life in cold weather, keep any spare batteries in your pockets or close to body heat. The extra warmth will help maintain their charge until you need them.

That said, remember to dress warmly! No matter what type of photos you’re aiming to take, you will NOT enjoy yourself if you’re cold.

Never forget the scarf. Layers are your friend. Gloves are nothing to be ashamed of and a nice beanie goes a long way.

What’s Next?

Once you’ve mastered these basics of night photography then you can let your imagination run wild and you start exploring creative techniques like zooming while the camera is capturing a long exposure for an explosion of lights and colour.

You could even bring your own lights or props to add some extra elements to a scene. Like this shot captured during one of our DCW walking tours.

A great image by chels_e_photo with extra lights that add colour to the scene.
A post shared by Chelsey (@chels_e_buns) on

This is only the beginning of your low-light photography journey, once you have an understanding of night photography and low exposures you'll be in an great position to start experimenting with astrophotography to capture the stars, milky way and more.

Got questions? Feel free to leave a comment below, chat via our website, give us a call, or pay us a visit in-store.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Finding The Right Tripod


Finding the right tripod is like finding a best friend for your camera. [Photo: @sirui_eu]

More often than not, after getting to know our cameras better, one of the first pieces of gear we find ourselves in want of is the humble tripod.

For a lot of people, tripods illicit one of those “oh, no, that’s way too serious.” reactions. As if only professionals are ‘allowed’ to be seen with them.

Nope. Untrue. Anyone making a hobby out of photography can, and should, pick up a decent tripod sooner than later. And I mean, propping up your camera with a few rocks does have its limitations.

Professionals might require a different set of features in their support systems, but the whole point of a tripod is the same across the board: It holds your camera so you don’t have to.

Let your tripod do the work while you relax and soak in the view. [Photo: @sirui_eu]
As you browse from entry level to professional tripods, you’ll notice a bit of a trend. Build material will often go from aluminium to carbon fibre. Maximum height gets a little taller. Most importantly, you’ll notice that the higher-level tripods can support more weight.

That’s because professionals tend to be using larger cameras along with other weighty accessories, like lighting, monitors, and more. They need that extra capacity to keep their rigs steady and upright.

Before things get out of hand, it’s important to take a second and think about what you really need from your tripod. Are you using it occasionally for family photos, or are you planning to go out regularly for long-exposure images?

Below, we’ve listed a few examples, common features, and what kind of photographer they might be better suited to.

Beginner
Sirui A-1005 Aluminium Tripod with Ball Head
10kg Maximum Payload Weight | 140cm Maximum Height | 35.5cm Folded Length

This one is a great option for first time tripod owners and those with lighter cameras. The ball head is versatile and easy to use.  The whole thing folds down small, gives you a good working height range, and can support up to 10kg of gear. Now, that’s more than most beginners will need, but it’s also really great to know you’ve got room to grow. 

Intermediate
Sirui W-2004 Waterproof Aluminium Tripod Legs + K-20x Ballhead
18kg Maximum Payload Weight | 180cm Maximum Height | 52cm Folded Length


Sirui W-2004 Waterproof Aluminium Tripod Legs + K-20x Ballhead
As things progress, you’ll start to notice tripod legs and heads available separately, allowing you to choose the components for your specific shooting needs. Like this kit here. The legs are still aluminium, but go much higher and are a little more robust with waterproof twist locks. The head will make the most difference, with more advanced controls over friction feel, a heftier 25kg payload, and a larger plate to accommodate bigger, heavier cameras. 

Professional
Sirui W-2204 Carbon Fibre Waterproof Tripod + K-30x Ballhead
18kg Maximum Payload Weight | 180cm Maximum Height | 52cm Folded Length

Moving to the pro level options, you’ll see a lot more legs made from carbon fibre, like the one above. This makes the tripod lighter and stiffer, which is good considering the heavy weight of pro cameras and accessory rigs. It still has the waterproof twist locks and the K-30x ballhead is a little more heavy duty as well, with an even wider plate and bigger payload of 30kg.

Now is the best time to shop for Sirui tripods and tripod heads. To complement the range of City By Night photowalks, we're offering savings of up to $102.00 on the entire Sirui range. Get in quick, the sale ends at the end of May.

Got questions? Feel free to leave a comment below, chat via our website, give us a call, or pay us a visit in-store.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Sony FS7 Mark II vs FS5 Mark II : Clash of the Camcorders


With the release of the new and improved FS5 Mark II, Sony’s professional’s video camcorder line-up is more comprehensive than ever. We put the two flagships, the FS7 Mark II and the new FS5 Mark II head to head to work out what they have in common and what set them apart.

Work the Body

The most obvious difference between the two cameras is the size, weight & overall body design. The body of the FS7 Mark II weighs in at hefty 2000g & is designed to primarily be a shoulder mounted camera.

It features a telescopic arm with a smart hand grip that provides shooting control without requiring access to buttons on the body. It records to XQD cards, which are an ultra-fast & reliable media.

The FS5 Mark II, on the other hand, is a featherweight at 830g with a rotatable grip & an LCD screen that can be attached in 9 different positions.

Its smaller form factor means it can be mounted on drones or gimbals and it records to SD cards which are generally cheaper than XQD media.

Control your Exposure

One of the features of both the Mark II version of the FS7 and the FS5 II is the built-in electronically controlled variable neutral density filter.

This innovative technology uses an electrical current to control how much light passes through the filter, allowing operators to set the iris and shutter settings then use the electronically variable ND to control the exposure.




The same technology can be used to capture incredible depth-of-field pulls because when the operator closes the iris to increase the depth of field in real-time the electronic variable ND filter can automatically compensate for the changing exposure.

This new way of controlling the focus in your scene means you can bring a background into focus without losing focus on the foreground or vice-versa.

Lock it Down

Both camcorders use an E-mount that, because of the sensor position, allow the use of EF and PL mount lenses with adapters. The FS7 Mark II also boasts a Lever Lock Type that supports heavier cine glass with a secondary locking stage for peace-of-mind when changing lenses.

The FS7 Mark II's Lever Lock Mount is designed for more secure lens attachment.

Blow by Blow Account

Now let's get into the gritty details so we can compare each camera. Both shoot glorious 10-bit colour in Full HD with a more-than-reasonable 4:2:2 chroma subsampling ratio, but only the FS7 Mark II records 10-Bit colour in 4K at 4:2:2.

The FS5 Mark II shoots UHD 4K with a lower 8-bit colour depth & a more compressed 4:2:0 chroma subsampling ratio.

Keep in mind the capabilities of both cameras improve when complemented with an external recorder like the Atomos Shogun, I'll go into more detail about that in a bit.

For now the chart below should make it easier to compare the video functionality of each model.


FS7 Mark II
FS5 Mark II
4K Video


Resolution
4096x2160 (DCI)
3840x2160 (UHD)
Colour Depth
10 Bit
8 Bit
Chroma Subsampling
4:2:2
4:2:0
Maximum Frame Rate
60fps
30fps
Maximum Bit Rate
600Mbps
100Mbps
Full HD Video


Colour Depth
10 Bit
10 Bit
Chroma Subsampling
4:2:2
4:2:2
Maximum Frame Rate
180fps (continuous)
120fps/240fps (8 second burst)
Maximum Bit Rate
222Mbps
40Mbps

Beautiful Codec Moments

The cameras use different versions of the XACV codec to compress the pixel information from the sensor for storage but what is the difference between the two main codecs the cameras use?
XAVC is a recording format introduced by Sony that comes in many sizes and flavours

XAVC-Intraframe

The FS7 Mark II can make use of the high-end XAVC-Intraframe codec which records each frame of your footage, resulting in larger file sizes that are easier for your computer to edit. The XAVC-I codec in the FS7 II produces high quality footage with bit-rates up to 600Mbps for 4K & 222Mbp for Full HD.

XAVC-Long GOP

The FS5 II uses the XAVC-Long GOP codec to reduce video file size by grouping frames together & only recording pixel information that changes between frames while ignoring pixels in each frame that stay the same. This keeps file sizes manageable but is more demanding on your computer to edit & grade. The XAVC-L in the FS5 II has a bit rate up to 100Mbps for UHD 4K and 40Mbps for Full HD video footage.

Not all 4K is Created Equal and How Slow Can You Go

Able to shoot 4K DCI footage with a resolution up to 4096x2160, the FS7 II boasts frame rates up to 60fps, & captures Full HD resolution footage with a continuous frame rate up to 180fps for silky smooth slow-mo.
The FS5 II also records 4K video but at the lower resolution of 3840x2160 at 30 fps which is half the frame rate of the FS7 II. It can however record slow motion Full HD footage with a faster 240fps frame rate but only in 8-second bursts.

Colour Spaces and Profiles

Both cameras can shoot with the Slog2 & Slog3 colour profiles, which means they have excellent post-production colour grading flexibility. But only the FS5 Mark II offers Hybrid Log-Gamma for an Instant HDR workflow.

With the original FS5 it was quite easy to accidentally clip the highlights but Sony promise that the cameras new colour science has been refined with a updated gamma curve for more accurate colour performance.

Unlock Hidden Potential

Optional upgrades are available for both cameras to improve functionality.

The XDCA-FS7 module for the FS7 Mark II can be attached to the back of the camera and improves the colour depth of the video output from 10-bit to 12-bit while also allowing you to record a 4K & 2K RAW signal with an external recorder, like an Atomos Shogun.

It also outputs 2K footage at a continuous frame rate up to 240fps & includes built-in encoding for Full HD Apple ProRes 422.

Definitely worthwhile if you're shooting for a high-end production where detail and image quality are key, but be aware that your video file sizes will be significantly larger.

It is also worth noting that the XDCA-FS7 unit blocks the camera's battery connection so it is necessary to use V-lock Style batteries to power the camera instead
The FS7 Mark II with the optional XDCA Module attached.

The FS5 Mark II actually features two of the software upgrades that had to be purchased separately with the original FS5.

This means that just by adding an external recorder like the Atomos Shogun, you can get squeeze better image quality and performance out of the camera.

You can capture 4K RAW video output at up to 60fps as well as 2K RAW at up to 240fps, you can even capture 120fps 4K in 4-second bursts.


And the Winner is......

Don't get too excited because working out which of these cameras is the best is not going to that easy, it's a very close fight between the two and it really depends on what you want to use them for.

The FS7 II is capable of capturing higher bit-rate video footage with the XAVC-I codec and the larger DCI resolution. The massive files sizes created by shooting 10-Bit footage means that you might find yourself regurly changing XQD cards though, when filming at the highest quality.

I would recommend using it in combination with the XDCA Module and an external recorder. This setup makes the overall weight and size of the camcorder quite hefty, making it better suited as a shoulder mounted A camera for film productions where image quality is paramount.

The FS5 Mark II on the other hand is still very capable of shooting high quality footage but the XAVC-L codec means you won't have to swap SD cards as often. With the slow-motion and RAW output upgrades built in, as well as the improved standard colour profiles, the Mark II FS 5 is more than capable of producing incredible looking footage with a UHD 4K resolution.

But, what really sets the FS5 Mark II apart from the FS7 is the compact size, portable weight and modular design that make it the perfect camera for a run-and-gun setup that does not compromise on features. Ideal for short films, documentary work and videographers constantly on-the-go.

So whether you're looking for a production video powerhouse or a compact camcorder that suits your active shooting style, hopefully now you have a bit more of an idea about what your options are in the Sony Pro Video line-up.