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Monday, 11 February 2008

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Have you tried the high / low key settings? I have a feeling that the low key setting would work on your high contrast situation, keeping overall contrast controlled, and vice-versa. I have wondered how this Olympus feature works in this regard, but haven't seen any actual sample photos.

This is contrary to the obvious use for these settings (e.g. high key setting for high key fashion shoot, say), but I suspect it might help give you an improved tone curve to these situations, similar to the dynamic range optimizing features in newer cameras.

Just a thought.

Something I found out with my Canon, which may be applicatble here, was that even when shooting RAW to set the contrast to highest setting. The in-camera histogram & clip warning is based on the jpeg settings. High contrast tends to push the highlights higher, getting an earlier warning of clipping. Whilst it doesn't affect metering, it prevents blow-out much better when using the clipping warning that you mention.
More details here: http://doonster.blogspot.com/2007/05/great-eos-metering-test.html

Thanks for round 2 Gordon,

I find the exact same thing with my olympus E300 and if I am fair I think it a common and consistent "feature" of most DSLR's these days. I too find center weighted and spot to be the best way to deal.

I finally handled an E3 thinking I was buying one for sure. I much prefer the size and weight of the E510 but don't care for the build quality. It is likely just fine but does not instill the confidence of the E300 quality.

I look forward to your thoughts regarding the overall handling of the E510 in real practice.

Thanks

Gordon,

I don't understand. Do you not think that online training for corporate clients is funny?

Back in the late 80's, corporations did this ("http://roberts-rants.blogspot.com/2005/06/corporate-tomfoolery.html") for fun. I thought it was hilarious.

Robert

A "trick" learned by generations of Kodachrome shooters (whose burned-out highlights were infamous) was to keep and use a Polascreen on the camera.

From my limited experience I find that changing contrast settings have nothing to do with clipped highlights. The variation here is minimal and has no effect on the raw image.

More in-camera contrast just gives a steeper S-curve but doesn't clip more highlights than a lower setting, and if any then the difference is very little. You are likely to lose shadow and highlight detail. So the lowest contrast setting makes most sense to me for jpeg-only shooting.

Btw, why is it that till now only Nikon gives auto contrast for jpegs? I found this to do very well with all kinds of images.

A pertinent reminder that one of the improvements so badly needed with digital capture is more dynamic range - not more pixels, more FPS or more program features.
Unfortunately at the moment the manufacturers don't have a simple way of quantifying dynamic range to print on a sticker for the camera - come on Fuji, time to take advantage of the one area where you're the winner.

Cheers, Robin

I guess I was expecting that your example would relate/demonstrate your suggestion rather than show what could be done in ACR.

Would not metering for the sky (Big Brother Sky as Bryan Peterson puts it) be the proper way to expose for this shot regardless of camera?

I also wonder if a 2 stop soft GND filter or polorizer would not have produced the result that you wanted more easily.

I don't disagree with your observations -- I own an E-510 as well. I guess my approach to the camera's limitations/quirks is different. For my workflow I shoot RAW+SHQ and only use the RAW if the JPEG is not what I want. CF cards are cheap and Lightroom makes it easy to find and keep the keepers. I follow Bryan Peterson's recommendations from his book Understanding Exposures and after several months with the camera, I know when I am going to blow highlights or dark areas and adjust the EV or use a filter. Many in the Olympus community are still hoping for a firmware fix for this type of problem but I believe this is just the limitation of this camera. I still love it and will not give it up for my former FF ball and chain.

This was a recurring problem with my Minolta D7 so I got into the habit of 'Chimping' the flashing highlights image after the first few shots. I too habitually use spot or centre weighted metering.

The D80 appears to me to be much better in these situations.

As an aside I also use spot/centre focus. I have never understood the advantage of multiple focus points. Perhaps its because I shoot mostly landscapes but even so it always seems so much easier to focus on the subject and hold that focus with the first pressure on the release while you re-compose.

Maybe its an age thing

Lots of complaints about clipped highlights on the E-510 and E-410. With the E-410, I had a similar approach to what you've recommended here, and it works. Of course, with pretty much any camera it is possible to avoid large blown highlights. One can replicate Canon's new "Highlight Tone Priority" on the Olys simply by underexposing a stop and then using a combination of boosted exposure plus highlight recovery or a combination of leaving the exposure low and increasing brightness/fill (same effect). The issues are how blocked up the shadows get when one exposes to the left and how noisy they become when one brings them back up in post. I found that the E-410 did just fine in both of these respects provided that I shot RAW. Not class-leading but more than adequate for my purposes. Shooting JPEG with these cameras does limit the dynamic range quite a bit given the high contrast settings Olympus has chosen for the in-camera processing.

The E-510's gradation settings affect exposure, not contrast. "High-key" increases the exposure by 1/3rd to 2/3rds of a stop. "Low key" decreases exposures by the same amount. Since both settings require menu surfing, you can do the same thing faster by simply dialing in the exposure compensation you want.

As for the contrast adjustment idea, the E-510 already has a much steeper default contrast curve than Canon DSLRs. I know this because I also own a Canon EOS 30D. If anything, you'd want to set the E-510's contrast as low as possible. You can always increase contrast later, in post-processing, but reducing contrast won't rescue blown highlights after the fact if you're shooting JPEGs.

Urgh. This is not a misfeature of the camera, it's a quirk of the metering algorithm; after all, spotting off the highlights is claimed to work so it's not as though its exposure is intrinsically borked, only the matrix evaluation algorithm has different preferences to the user.

Such things as `compensate -0.7eV' are an inferior way to approach it, precisely because it relies on analysing the scene to be high-contrast in the first place, by which time you could have waved a spot-meter across the bits you can *see* to be highlights and worked the whole exposure out yourself. I use the align-highlights-right system myself with manual and spot-metering; doesn't the oly e-510 have a metering mode to do precisely that too?

Photos like this with major contrast differences between subject and sky need a major fill flash or a graduated neutral density filter. Shoot a bracket and try HDR in photoshop.
Wait for a cloudy day, shooting into the sun really never works. Some if not all the time there is only so much you can do in a lighting situation like this. What I do some time is add a different sky to the photo. The camera can only do so much, the rest is up to you, your imagination and photoshop.

Other popular tips from e510 owners to avoid overexposure include:
- set ESP (matrix) metering to work indedpendent of AF frame (the dafault is ESP+AF)
- set the shutter half press to lock focus, full press to lock exposure (the default locks both exposure and focus at half press)

Also, as an e-510 owner, in tricky situations I often use the AEL/AFL lock and/or metering compensation.

Non e510-specific tips for better dynamic range include:
- polarising and split (graduated ND) filters
- bounced/fill-in flash
- exposure bracketing as a precaution or for HDR processing

Finally, in many cases we should just wait for better light :-) For example, I think the picture in the article would look much nicer if taken on a late sunny afternoon. We would no longer have to fight with excessive DR and the colors would look much nicer, too. I know, I know, England is not California...

I'm not an Olympus shooter, but I have to admit that I get a kick out of playing around with the slrgear.com blur plot tools for a lot of Olympus lenses. This one almost made me giggle: http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/39/cat/14

Olympus really does have some sweet, weather-sealed lenses...

Best,
Adam

You offer good tips for any digital camera, Gordon.

If I may add a fifth suggestion to your list it would be:

5. LEARN YOUR CAMERA'S OPERATION AND CHARACTERISTICS
In film days, after a few thousand mistakes, photographers generally became very familiar and confident with a few film emulsions. That experiential knowledge base became cumulative over time as new camera bodies appeared. Yes, new cameras offered new features but the photographic media remained constant.

Digital photography has, to a great degree, eliminated much of the potential for a photographer to acquire such an intuitive knowledge of the photographic medium. The various digital camera models (and their sensors) behave with just enough variety to keep their owners slightly off balance from model to model. Unfortunately, the steady pace of new camera models presents an almost continuous temptation to "upgrade" and, in so doing, inadvertently but unavoidably discard a great deal of non-transferable photographic skill. Consequently, many of today's amateur photographers simply do not spend enough studied quality time practicing with their cameras to develop the degree of exposure intuition that their film predecessors had just 30 years ago. For example the basic term of "contrast ratio", which applies to your topic, is becoming positively runic to today's photographic enthusiasts. (This despite the fact that many dslr cameras feature pretty good spot metering.) The difference between delight and disappointment for many images today generally rests mainly in the camera's software.

Every digital camera I own responds to these high-contrast situations just a bit differently. With practice I've generally been able to develop a sense of how to meter such a scene with each of my cameras to capture the degree of details I want or need. For the past two years I have been very reluctant to replace an existing camera with its successor specifically because I know that I would be simultaneously discarding a body of experience knowledge with the "upgrade".

The siren of digital photography product upgrades and improvements has been strong and persistent for many years. But it's actually waning a bit now that each market segment seems sated with features and megapixels. I recommend taking advantage of this lull to pick 'n' learn. That is, get the best camera you can afford, or eschew replacing the one you have, and really develop a deep intuition into its behavior. EXIF makes it delightfully convenient to keep track of the click decisions you made. (Look ma, no notebook!) I think you'll find that the stability of your platform and the discovery effort will repay you handsomely with better exposures, particularly on such hi-con scenes as Gordon shows here.

All this applies to any digital camera, not just the Olympus E-510. It's not uncommon that digital cameras tend to overexpose, either due to less-than-perfect meter calibration or because inexperienced users generally prefer brighter images because they look, um, brighter. More friendly. To those users, clipped highlights are a minor issue, if an issue at all (applies mostly to entry-level cameras). In any case, shooting in raw format will provide some extra headroom in the highlights.

And by the way ... raw is a plain simple word of the English language. So there's absolutely no reason to write 'RAW.' This is in contrast to e. g. JPEG or TIFF or PSD which are acronyms. 'Raw' is not an acronym, it's just a word.

-- Olaf

For jpegs I use "Muted" sharpness -2 contrast -2. Seems to help keep things in check. Also it's reported that turning off the noise filter decreases the DR. Leaving the noise filter on low helps with the highlight clipping but seems to soften detail a bit. Not a great choice but it's your choice. LOL. Shooting raw and exposing for the highlights is the best method. I'd rather open up the shadows in ACR then try and recover blown highlights.

The overexposure problem is surely not restricted to this camera. Despite matrix metering, the Nikon D40 and the D200 suffer from the same thing to some degree.

The way I look at it, adjusting exposure leaves me with something to do, and rebuts my wife's claim that with digital, it's all cheating anyway.

Hence, one of the deciding factors for me in choosing a camera, is how easy it is to set exposure compensation quickly.

I have tried metering off a lighter part and holding exposure - there's a nice dedicated button on the back of the D200 to do this - but it is a bit hit and miss . . . how far into the sky do I aim? etc. And if I get it wrong, what do I do next? Try another shot with a bit more/less sky?

So estimating the exposure compensation needed, and twirling the exposure compensation dial gives me lots of satisfaction.

David B.,

Thanks for your contribution, which really made me laugh (I'm not being sarcastic, I'm being sincere).

Best,
Adam

A nice feature of the E-510 is the spot meter that's designed for highlights (and another for shadows) instead of middle tones. I believe this function can be assigned to the exposure lock button so that you may easily use this as an alternative metering mode. Point the camera at the brightest highlight that you want to preserve, lock the exposure, and recompose. I routinely use this for photographs in snow or with overcast skies with very reliable results.

The new Olympus certainly does seem to hold a lot of promise as an all-around general use camera. I've been following your user reports thoroughly. But I'm very puzzled by the latest report, and your advice how how to "live" with overexposure. In my book, 0.7 of a stop is not in significant. In the world of trans film, that easily makes or breaks an image, or forces you to push process. So why is it "relatively minor"? And to screw up in the highlights is far more egregious than to lose shadow values (granted this is open to argument, but I'm most photographers would agree here). So I do like your suggestion to expose for the highlights. It what us pro chrome shooters have always done.

Whereas your recommendation to shoot raw and fix in the conversion is certainly accurate, and the standard practice for anything like this, I really don't understand why photographers should have to sacrifice something so basic as good exposure. Let me ask this simple question: How much is your time worth to you? Are the extra hours you will spend over the years fixing images in post-production worth the extra dollars you might have spent on a camera that simply performs better in the first place? Think about that.

I've done many side-by-side exacting tests of many digital cameras over the last few years. That's because I spent 17 years as the in-house shooter for one of the camera makers (no longer my job), and I can tell you that the differences in jpeg quality between cameras can be astounding. For years, Fuji honestly and truly beat the pants off everyone with their special dual-pixel arrangement (S3 and S5). It really does work. But in recent years, I've seen both Nikon and Canon come to within a 1/3 to 1/2 stop of the highlight rendering ability just by tweaking the camera settings in the menus. So if it was me, I just wouldn't bother with buying something that gives me less than adequate performance, and forces me to work harder

Of course what we really want is the metering system from the great old OM4 - OM4Ti series.
Ah, those were the days!

Hmmm. When I first got my E-510, it seemed to be UNDERexposing. Finally, tweaking the metering settings fixed the problem. Discussed at DPReview: http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1022&message=23845206

Michael B, if you read through the user comments, here and on other forums, you'll see that some users are having issues with consistent overexposure, while others are having issues with consistent underexposure. Those who aren't having any problems at all probably don't post complaints to user forums, so it's hard to know whether they are the majority or not.

Having used the E-510 for a while now, I can assure you and others that it's by no means difficult to get consistently good results from it. It just takes some time and effort to figure out how to set the camera so it responds the way you want and expect it to. Admittedly, this would be easier if the E-510 had a less contrasty JPEG tone curve. It would also help if the owner's manual did a better job of explaining the implications of key settings rather than just their availability.

The thing to remember is that all cameras have flaws and weaknesses. In the case of the E-510, I'm willing to tolerate its weaknesses in exchange for its strengths, which include comfortable size and weight, ease of handling, and the availability of excellent yet affordable lenses in the focal lengths I prefer. If these attributes are low on your list of priorities, that's fine. Remember, I'm not trying to sell anyone anything. I'm just trying to provide a few insights into what its like to shoot with one of the more popular DSLRs on the market today.

I don't know...reading Gordon's notes about the performance of the E-510, I am not at all impressed. 0.7 EV dynamic range is a lot to give up, it's almost a full stop. Truth is, we shouldn't be dealing the magnitude of dynamic range and clipped highlights we are dealing with on the E-510, particularly at this point in time in 2008. Come on, let's get real. I dealt with less of these issue in 2002 with my Canon D60. For example, I could pull back 2 stops of highlight overexposure when shooting in RAW on my old D60. To be honest with you, from reading this, it looks like my D60 still outperforms this camera; and from the data I've seen on the dynamic range of the 40D, Canon still has a marked performance capability over anything from Oly at this point in time.

It is a pity that one (Gordon Lewis in case) just shares his experiences from one camera-lens-combo. And then it is going like on dpreview & co. People start to discuss whether this camera is better than others or vice versa. And some try to break down the 510 because of metering "issues".

This is ridiculous, since every camera meters differently. These who point to their own oh so sophisticated needs in regard to exposure put it as if exposure is equivalent with the camera's metering. Makes we wonder?
Are those great and experienced photogs at the mercy of the camera's built-in meter? Didn't they calibrate their hand-meters and/or camera meters against their whole photographic process and the output? Was the inner circle meter of the PRO Nikon F3 absolutely reliable with slide film? I doubt it.

To put some things into perspective:
Reflective metering is a starting point.
Exposure is the photographer's choice.

With digital, the real meter is the histogram.

Especially those static scenes that are always used as examples here don't require a perfect metering result in the first place.

Instead of using a handheld meter and multiple spot readings, now you shoot, check histogram, change exposure and shoot again.

The E-510 is no different here compared to other models.

And one more thing: can't hear this dynamic range thing any longer. Did you ever figure that what you see in the raw conversion software is a linearised version of the original data? For example in lightroom set everthing to zero (i.e. use "zeroed" preset), and you will see much more information. I don't find my old E-1 any worse than for example the Canon 30D, not in real world examples, which very often consist of high contrast. And depending on the raw-software, different maker's raw-files are treated differently. So don't judge upon the first impression, play around and change settings.

Face it, equipment geeks: every contemporary camera out there is about the same.

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