Sunday, September 25, 2011

Silent Revolution

Since the last few years I have come to know about many great teachers who are dedicating their lives to share their wisdom about life and well being. Some are controversial, but I know many who are almost anonymous and seem to be interested in really doing some good. They have little publicity and people who go to them are doing so only by getting to know about them through word of mouth. Rarely do I see the media bothering with them.... which might actually be a good thing.

About 10 years ago I got to know one such teacher who taught us meditation and pranayama for about two weeks and also shared some secrets of happiness that some of us were struggling to realise. He charged about 300 rupees that went into hiring the hall, the equipment, the carpets, etc. It is funny that most probably his credibility suddenly rose in your eyes as soon as I said this. While I do believe that when someone is sharing any kind of knowledge, they should be paid back in some way, it is always humbling to see someone who is sharing stuff that is sometimes life changing for almost nothing. Otherwise they are called corporate trainers. ;)

Anyway, I wonder if he was left with anything. And all he did was travel all over the state teaching these things all year round. He wanted us to live to a higher ideal, to live to a better future and well being. I do not know how much I was able to live up to those higher ideals but I do know that this was one of the most important turns my life took. Until then I was adrift in a sea of confusion. Now I know that I at least have some direction. And it is not everyday you get to see someone who is not a money spinner but a humble person who gave up everything (including family!) because one felt that it was their only aim in life, to share some knowledge.

The reason why I wanted to say this is that I see what the media is doing to us on a daily basis. It is bombarding us with negative messages and mostly ignoring the little (if not larger undercurrent of) good stuff that is happening silently. Some of them have become messengers of hatred too! It is important for us to realize and remember that things are not really as bad as they make it sound and the world can really be a beautiful place if we want it to be. It is the biggest myth that one person cannot make enough change, if that is what discourages us. So, if you have something positive to share with the world, do not hold back. :)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Art and Science of SLR Buying Part 1

I have had quite a few people ask me, 'Which camera do I buy?', and each time it starts of a topic that I don't know how to stop talking about. I realize the best thing would be to blog it instead. Once and for all! :)

Comparing SLR cameras is a very complicated affair. In order to know why a certain camera is better than another, one has to understand the technology behind it and how it influences the final image you want to create. Apart from image quality, there are other factors like ergonomics, build quality etc that will influence your buying decision, but those are easy to know and understand, so we will not discuss those here.

This post aims to help you understand these things:
  • Will this post be useful for you or not?
  • Basic definitions and terminology
  • The Megapixel Myth
  • Sensor size, pixel density and image quality

Will this post be useful for you or not?
This entire discussion is also based on the assumptions:
  • You are passionate about image quality (If not, most of what I say beyond this point is not needed)
  • You want to take the pain to know how, why, and which SLRs give great image quality when compared to point and shoot cameras.
  • You have used a point and shoot camera before and now want to upgrade to SLRs.

Basic definitions and terminology

Let me cover the basic definitions first:

Point and Shoot (P&S) camera: a compact camera with which you can usually just do just that - point and shoot. Wikipedia has a nice topic:

SLR (Single Lens Reflex): These cameras are called so due to what happened in the film era. These were the cameras which had just one lens through which you compose the image you are going to shoot. These were considered an improvement from cameras which had two lenses, one for the image that the photographer saw and one for the film. In an SLR, what you see is what gets recorded as the image. But when digital came, even point and shoots capture the image that you see but without a mirror mechanism inside. Wikipedia for more info on how an SLR works:

SLRs usually (always?) have interchangeable lenses. But with digital, all these distinguishing factors are getting blurred. For example, the Sony NEX-5 has interchangeable lenses and it is now part of a growing class of hybrid cameras which are a little SLR-like and also have the simplicity and compactness of a P&S. But you get the general idea.

Some people ask me if my SLR is 'digital'. If it weren't a digital SLR (DSLR), it would have been a film SLR. Very, very, very, few people still use a film SLR and film SLRs are almost extinct. So, when I say SLR, it means a DSLR unless I specify otherwise. When digital SLRs were relatively new, it was important to distinguish them as film and digital, which I think is now absolutely unnecessary. Film is officially dead (Kodak retires Kodachrome film:

Now that we have covered some of the basics, here are some factors that one needs to consider:

The Megapixel Myth
One of the most hyped and yet one of the most misleading part of a camera's specifications is the Megapixels. More megapixels does not mean better image quality. It is the famous megapixel myth. Marketers want you to believe that more is better. I could easily print 5x7" prints with a 3.2 megapixel camera (these days, it is hard to find anything lower than 6 megapixels). You would need more megapixels only if you want to do a lot of cropping, or if you want to print poster size, or shoot very detailed landscapes.

Sensor size, pixel density, and image quality

The two most important parts of a camera that affect image quality are the sensor and the lens.

Among SLRs, the ones which have larger sensors (also called full-frame SLRs) like the Canon 5D Mark II have a marginally better image quality owing to the pixels being less crammed up. This results in lower sensor noise and hence better image quality in low light situations.

If you studied electronics, you must be familiar with circuit noise which is similar to (or the same as) sensor noise in a camera. So find out if you want an SLR which has a a four thirds sensor, an APS-C sensor, or a full-frame sensor, in increasing order of general price, image quality, and low light performance. You can google plenty of full-size image samples from each camera in various situations and compare them. But remember, this is just a general trend but some recent sensor technology is changing and creating exceptions (I will come back to this later). So to be technically correct, I can say, with the same sensor technology, the price, image quality, and low light performance of the sensor will usually increase along with sensor size.

Now that we know this, if you look at the sensor size chart, some of the smallest sensors go into a P&S. Most P&Ss therefore have more or less very low image quality compared to an SLR if the sensors were made using the same technology.

Now look at the example diagram:

If these sensors had only 4 pixels and were exposed to the same light, you can see that each pixel has less and less light falling on it as the sensor becomes smaller. This means that the larger sensor which has more light falling on each pixel will create a stronger electrical signal. Circuit noise is constant for a given technology. This means that the smallest sensor will have a weaker signal to contend with a lot of noise compared to the larger sensor. If you see photographs from a Canon 5D Mark II and from a Canon IXUS 100 IS point and shoot camera, you can actually see the huge difference in image quality.

A very good example of an unlikely great camera was the Nikon D700 which was just 12 megapixels but had a full-frame sensor. Owing to the fewer pixels spread over a larger area, it turned out to be one of the best cameras out there in terms of low light, high ISO performance.

Will talk more about other things you need to consider when buying an SLR in the next part!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kerala trip: Rest of it

It's actually no fun posting the pics months after the excitement of coming back from a nice trip has died down. But to keep with the flow, after having posted pics of the first part of the trip in Cochin, I will post the rest.

I have become so seriously involved in photography that I have little to write these days. The information overload of trying to know how to get the best out of your equipment can be daunting. The budget always comes up too! :( And posting images on my facebook artist page and getting instant 'Like's and comments from friends who would have never read it on the blog is an altogether different thing! :)

Anyways I won't punish you further! Here are the pics :)

Here was a local romeo zooming off into the munnar hills on his bike :)

Any grocery shop worth its salt has to have a few varieties of bananas.

Going by the lavish ads the jewelry and saree industry enjoyed, it felt like these were the two prospering industries there (recession or not). We rarely saw any other billboards. It also looked like most of the models were from Mumbai. We even got to see an ad with what looked like Sayali Bhagat in one of them.

Why was I so interested in billboards of all the things? Some of the road journeys got a little monotonous and these were the interesting things we saw. And another thing is that each of these ads is a lesson in itself, if one wants to learn the art of fashion/commercial photography. How it can be and in some cases, how it shouldn't.

One thing that I think that definitely distinguishes Kerala is the windowless buses there. Keeps one completely in tune with the elements! ;)

Munnar was the best part of the trip if you ask me. It was unlike the other places that I have seen before. The tea estates had a charm. But it was the trees in the forests with trunks more than a 100 feet tall, growing on steep hills towering above us. All this after we ascend so many hundreds of meters up into the hills. The sheer scale was hard to imagine!

The main part of the Munnar town was a dusty little high altitude garbage dump. Was a little embarrassing to see what we are turning a pretty little hill station into. Rubble strewn all over, many new constructions not in tune with the landscape, and heaps of burning garbage. No, I did not take any pics there. :(

It is very hard to express the beauty of a place when every time you click the picture, the camera seems to interpret the scene in a different way, although equally beautiful. Very enigmatic.

And then it was down into the hot humid plains into the backwaters. The mandatory houseboat ride. The best part of this ride was the unique glimpse into life along the backwaters. Unique because I feel that there is nothing else like this in this country.

The last part of the trip was Kovalam beach. We did go to Kanyakumari but I did not like the place. Quarrelsome hotel managers and bad service marked our stay there and we realised that apart from the novelty of being on the tip of India and the Vivekananda rock, there isn't much to the place.

Kovalam beach was not such a great beach but it has this nice light house that you should not miss. The view from the top is worth dying for. ;)