Canon 10D Blown-Out Highlights

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by street shooter, May 4, 2004.

  1. My Canon 10D blows out highlights on a semi-consistent basis. In all
    except very flat lighting highlights are completely lost when setting
    the exposure from a grey card. I am fairly certain my metering
    technique is correct. Using the same metering techniques with film, I
    produce decent negatives with normal print times and highlight and
    shadow detail which fall into place nicely; even my slides have a more
    workable dynamic range than my digital RAW files. I have the 10D, a
    512 MB CF card and the Epson 2200 photo printer. When I get good
    results they are truly exceptional, but those good results have been
    very few and very far between due to highlights so blown-out they are
    not able to be recovered in post-processing, and do not yield any ink
    coverage on Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper thereby leaving gaps in
    ink coverage on the prints. I am seriously considering cutting my
    losses and ditching all my digital equipment, but I'd rather not lose
    my shirt on what is already a $3500 plus investment, when you count
    the laptop that I bought specifically for digital photo applications.
    Any suggestions and/or advice? If the technology is what is limiting
    me I will happily return to film and not look back, but if there is
    something I can do differently to achieve results which meet my
    expectations I'd like to keep the option of photographing digitally

    street shooter, May 4, 2004
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  2. street shooter

    Robertwgross Guest

    (1) Do you use exposure compensation?
    (2) Do you review the histogram immediately after the shot?
    (3) Do you shoot RAW, or otherwise?

    ---Bob Gross---
    Robertwgross, May 4, 2004
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  3. street shooter

    Bill Hilton Guest

    From: (street shooter)
    Can't you check for this on the histogram with "info" after the first shot or
    two and then dial in exposure compensation as needed? You can set it so any
    blown out highlights will blink during the preview.
    Haven't experienced this at all with either a 10D or my new 1Ds.
    Are you shooting RAW? What metering mode are you using? And are you checking
    the histogram regularly? Should be easier to get accurate exposures with a 10D
    than when shooting slide film, I've found.

    Bill Hilton, May 4, 2004
  4. street shooter

    leo Guest

    Yes, this is the limitation of the current digital cameras. Fujifilm's new
    super CCD SR sensor has large and small sensor units that may produce wider
    dynamic range.
    leo, May 4, 2004
  5. street shooter

    Mark M Guest

    --Look at the contrast settings on your camera's menu. Are they set to
    If so, this will darken shadows, and blow highlights more readily.
    Set it to medium or low, and then look at result--ideally of three shots
    back-to-back of teh same subject under the same light (changing the setting
    each time).

    --Convert RAW files to 16 bit tiff files. This will give you more leeway in
    making small adjustments if needed. Also, you can tweak what the camera
    interprets as the exposure after the fact as you convert.

    --Get used to interpreting the camera's histrogram (Info Review), and refer
    to it especially at any time you're under strong lighting where shadows and
    highlight differences are greatest.

    --Your grey card is great, but it tells your camera to meter for middle
    tones. While this may be great for ensuring you've got a balanced exposure
    for the scene, it doesn't mean it won't still wildly over expose those
    portions of the image that are far brighter than a middle tone.

    --The most sure solution: Shoot in light that isn't so harsh/strong (like
    bright sunlight, or direct flash)...but you probably already knew that.
    Mark M, May 4, 2004
  6. Yes, and I still end up losing some highlight detail. I've pushed the
    exposure compensation to the point where dark tones become murky and I
    still get blown-out highlights.
    When I can, but as my screen name indicates my main photographic
    interest is candid/decisive moment street photography. Hence, my
    photographic style offers little leeway vis-a-vis reshooting a
    particular image.
    RAW. I've tweaked contrast settings and just about every other
    setting one could think of in Photoshop to little avail. I'm
    extremely frustrated as this camera seems suited to photography in
    very flat lighting situations only.
    street shooter, May 4, 2004
  7. Change the exposure mode to single (centre) sensor. You could also shoot
    raw. Either or both will achieve a more balanced result.
    This example: was shot with a 10D,
    Sigma 28~70 f2.8 in Queensland Australia at about 11:00 AM on a clear sunny
    summer day. You don't get brighter conditions than this anywhere but on a

    The original shot was in .jpg. If it was camera raw, I could have recovered
    the sparkle on the front fender which is blown out. Shooting in jpeg mode
    will give you more shots per card but it does so at the expense of detail.
    The grill on this car was blacked out, I masked the black and used Photoshop
    to lighten it. Whenever you shoot extremes of light and dark, shoot the
    highlights. You can alway find some detail in the shadows.

    Basically being able to pull exposure on the subject instead of the frame
    wide sensors will reduce highlight blow out unless the subject is very dark.
    Canon's metering (as set by the factory) is a little odd. It uses all the
    sensors to pull focus and exposure which results in some pretty average
    results when you have extremes of light and shade or need to focus on one
    object in the frame.

    Give up on the grey card for a while. Trust the force Luke!

    Douglas MacDonald, May 4, 2004
  8. street shooter

    BG250 Guest

    I've found the same with any digital camera. There is little latitude to
    work with. This is one area where film has the advantage.

    I underexpose because it is easier to pull detail out of the shadows than it
    is to get detail back from blown out areas (you can't). You said you are
    using RAW which also helps with usable dynamic range.
    BG250, May 4, 2004
  9. street shooter

    Chris Brown Guest

    What are you using to do the conversion? I use Photoshop CS raw import in 16
    bit mode with a 10D, and typically meter for the highlights as 2-3 stops
    above neutral. This gives me a good histogram and good highlight detail,
    with about 6-7 stops of decent detail under that.

    Canon's raw convertor seems to be less capable.
    Chris Brown, May 4, 2004
  10. It's a limitation of the old 90's-vintage Canon CMOS still used in
    their current DSLRs. Have a look at any pic from a Canon CMOS and
    you'll see that if there is any shadow detail, the sky will be pale
    white and the highlites will be blown. Canon, not being primarily a
    semiconductor company, still uses 486-level CMOS fabrication
    technology in their DSLRs, the new CMOS chips like NSC's (Foveon is
    National Semiconductor) Pentium4-level Foveon Pro 10M have better
    dynamic range than film, and approach or exceed the DR of the human
    eye, examples...

    Note: Deep blue skies + shadow detail, impossible with Canon DSLRs.
    George Preddy, May 4, 2004
  11. street shooter

    Crownfield Guest

    in very high contrast lighting, like street scenes at night, the
    lighting contrast is way beyond any film of sensor.

    that sort of scene requires exposing the bright areas properly, and
    letting the shadows fall where they fall. sensors blow highlights when
    they are overexposed. your camera metering may do better.

    get the highlights properly.

    also, from your description, check the contrast:
    camera setting and possible error in camera.

    shoot lower, process back to higher.
    Crownfield, May 4, 2004
  12. street shooter

    Lisa Horton Guest


    As Crownfield mentioned, with the 10D it's all about getting the
    highlights right. Make sure the highlights aren't blown out, then you
    can recover all the shadow detail on the computer. It's not at all like
    CN film, where you expose for the shadows and let the highlights fall
    where they may. It's a lot like slide film, except that it's got even
    less exposure latitude, and is even less forgiving of highlight blow
    out, as you've already found.

    Two suggestions: Meter the highlights, make sure they're not more than 2
    stops over nominal, or check the histogram and info screen which will
    point out the blown highlights quite clearly.

    Once you get used to it, it becomes easier to expose "properly" for the

    Lisa Horton, May 4, 2004
  13. As the OP is shooting RAW, he might be able to recover if the
    highlights are only slightly blown in the thumbnail preview. The
    preview, being jpeg, can show "blown highlights" which really aren't
    blown in the RAW image.

    [ Technical explanation: the 10D's sensor provides 12-bit color for each
    RGB channel. When converting to jpeg (which is also used for the LCD
    preview), the sensor's 12-bit data must be converted to 8-bit jpeg
    data. Now, for 12-bit data, the maximum value is 4095, and, for 8-bit
    data, the maximum value is 255. You can think of the maximum value as
    the value of a "blown highlight". Now, you might expect that, when
    converting to jpeg, the 10D would convert a 12-bit sensor value of
    4095 into a jpeg value of 255. Unfortunately, this isn't the case
    with the 10D. When converting to jpeg, red sensor values above
    approximately 1350 (remember that the maximum is 4095!) get mapped to
    255 in the jpeg. This means that red sensor values above
    approximately 1350 are "blown" in the jpeg, even though they're not
    really blown in the sensor value. For the green and blue sensors,
    values above approximately 2100 get mapped to 255. Yes, this does
    mean that nearly ONE-HALF (about another stop) of the 10D's dynamic
    range is wasted (unused) when shooting jpeg (which is also used for
    the LCD preview image). If you shoot RAW, and only slightly blow the
    highlights in the LCD (jpeg) preview, you can get more dynamic range.


    (I've forgotten where I read this, but, with the 10D, there are
    supposedly around 4 stops of dynamic range with jpeg, and around 5
    with RAW.)


    Darryl Okahata

    DISCLAIMER: this message is the author's personal opinion and does not
    constitute the support, opinion, or policy of Agilent Technologies, or
    of the little green men that have been following him all day.
    Darryl Okahata, May 4, 2004
  14. street shooter

    George Kerby Guest

    George Kerby, May 4, 2004
  15. street shooter

    Drifter Guest


    I've run into the same issue. As I understand it the issue is that
    when metering is shown on a graph, most digital sensors have a very
    short "shoulder" between almost blown out and totally blown.

    As a result I have had to learn new techniques (and so will you if you
    stick with it) 'cause my old film knowledge was getting me into
    trouble, especially on overcast days where the sky was very white but
    the shadows were very dark.

    Essentially you will need to become familiar with exposure
    compensation. I generally wind up metering to where I think I should
    be and then dropping the compensation 1/2 to 1 stop. Evening out the
    curves and so forth gets reserved for Photoshop later.

    Good luck

    "I've been here, I've been there..."
    Drifter, May 5, 2004
  16. street shooter

    Chris Brown Guest

    That seems a bit "hit and miss". Why not meter for the highlights in the
    scene at +2 exposure compensation, then pull the shadows up in raw
    conversion if you need to? That way, you ensure that you don't blow the
    highlights, because you're metering off them, rather than metering off
    something else and hoping.

    The lack of a spot meter can make this a bit awkward, but the partial meter
    is usually good enough, and if the area you take the reading from has a
    small bit that's brighter than the rest, using +2 means that you still have
    a stop or so to play with if you use a decent raw convertor, such as the
    Adobe one.
    Chris Brown, May 5, 2004
  17. street shooter

    Drifter Guest

    All I know is that my method works for me. I spent last weekend
    shooting a Revolutionary War re-enactment in very strong sunlight.
    With lots of bright white canvas tents and lots of dark uniforms (come
    to think of it, in respect to the contrast it was a lot like shooting
    a wedding <grin>). Anyway I managed to avoid blowing out the detail
    on the tents but still got good shots of the uniforms. Yes I tend to
    use the Adobe RAW converter although sometimes I will pull batch stuff
    up in Breezebrowser.

    "I've been here, I've been there..."
    Drifter, May 5, 2004
  18. street shooter

    Don F Guest

    You might want to read the dpreview article on dynamic range in digital
    cameras found here:

    Don F
    Don F, May 5, 2004
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