Faulty Camera or Faulty Photographer?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Graham Fountain, Sep 17, 2006.

  1. I've uploaded some pics (link at bottom) I took today with my Canon
    S2IS. Since I bought it about 3 months ago, I noticed that it would
    often yield blown highlights. Anything with sun shining on it, or
    anything with sky, would result in the nasty 255,255,255 areas. In order
    to get any type of a landscape shot that has colour in sky and detail in
    clouds, I have to lower the exposure. If I shoot on auto, it will always
    result in 100% white for everything above the horizon.

    I come from a mostly film background, and in pretty much identical
    shots, I know from experience that I wouldn't have to worry about film
    coping. I'm not sure if that is purely just from the greater latitude of
    film, or if the metering systems in my film cameras are more accurate.

    My previous digitals (a couple of Kodaks and a HP), were not as good as
    my film cameras, but nowhere near as bad as the Canon is. With them I
    could be reasonably successful in taking a photo that had sky in it.

    What is the general consensus of these shots that I have uploaded - do
    you think that the camera is faulty and over-exposing by a little over 2
    stops? or is it just that Canon's metering system isn't as good in high
    contrast scenes as what I'm used to with my other cameras? or do I just
    need to learn how to use it, and shoot everything by spot metering on
    the brightest object and setting AE lock/manual exposure?
    The photos can be seen here:
    Not the world's best photos, but they do show pretty well what the
    camera is doing.
    Graham Fountain, Sep 17, 2006
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  2. Graham Fountain

    Noons Guest

    Noons, Sep 17, 2006
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  3. Graham Fountain

    Ken Weitzel Guest

    Hi Graham...

    I don't have or know your camera, so can't comment specific to it,
    but it sure looks to my old eyes like you might have been using
    spot metering?

    Take care.

    Ken Weitzel, Sep 17, 2006
  4. Graham Fountain wrote:
    I think it's just that you need to learn how to use the camera. In JPEG
    mode, you do need to treat it like slide film and expose for the
    highlights - this may mean that in subsequent processing you need to bring
    up the dark areas a little (but not too much or you'll see the noise -
    which looks like grain). Learn to check the shots after taking, so that
    important photos are not lost. High-contrast situations like this can be
    difficult, and fill-in flash can sometimes help.

    Once you get used to what can be done, you may want to take images like
    this in RAW mode (should your camera allow), which may allow a greater
    freedom in post-processing. You can also try taking multiple exposures
    (perhaps you camera allows automatic exposure bracketing) and combine the
    images to maximise the dynamic range.

    On my own Nikon 8400 and Panasonic FZ5 I typically have a -1/3 stop
    exposure bias permanently on.

    Does your Canon have a "contrast" setting? If so, try reducing it.

    David J Taylor, Sep 17, 2006
  5. It looks like your pics are over contrasty. Does your camera have contrast
    settings? I don't know if it will let you shoot raw, but if it does you
    could alter the contrast curve in your editor. I had a quick go at playing
    with the contrast curve (i'm no expert with curves as I hardly ever use
    them!) of the darker image and got this:


    not ideal, as re-editing a jpeg is always a compromise, but it does let you
    see some shadow detail on the back of the truck.
    Adrian Boliston, Sep 17, 2006
  6. Nope - centre weighted average. I thought of that too. When I saw the
    flashing bits on the preview I checked metering mode. Just to be
    certain, Centre Weighted Average is also what the exif info says.
    Graham Fountain, Sep 17, 2006
  7. Yeah it is a very contrasty scene. The bright australian sun tends to do
    that to scenes. The camera only lets you adjust contrast by going into
    one of the special scene modes (called my colours). Otherwise it is the
    defaults all the way. I have set the colour mode to vivid, to give the
    colours a little bit of punch. This doesn't affect the exposure issue
    though. Having the colour mode set to normal results in a dull flat
    image with blown highlights, rather than a bright colourful image with
    blown highlights. It's not just this image either, it's pretty much
    anything I shoot that has sunlit subjects or the sky in the shot. By
    going to spot metering, pointing it at the brightest thing I can find,
    and then locking the AE, I can normally get an acceptible image.
    Alternatively I have had it set to -2 stops underexposure most of the time.
    Graham Fountain, Sep 17, 2006
  8. Hmmm... I must have missed that line when I looked at dpreview prior to
    buying it. I've also noticed it has a couple of hot pixels, so I think I
    might send it off to Canon and request a credit - I don't expect they
    will give me one, I even doubt they will fix it, but I'll see what
    happens. I do like it, it's quite a versatile little camera - very handy
    to have something that can do reasonable quality, decent zoom, in a
    compact size. This exposure issue is annoying the hell out of me though.
    Almost have to leave it with -2 exposure compensation, or put it in
    bracketing mode.
    If I do manage to get a credit out of Canon, I'm not sure whether I'd
    look at upgrading into a low-end DSLR, or to go to something else in the
    compact zoom category. I know DSLR would give me the better image
    quality, but I already have better image quality when I need it, from my
    film SLR's. The compact zoom is great because of it's compactness and
    convenience, even if I do have to take a bit of a quality hit to get that.
    Graham Fountain, Sep 17, 2006
  9. Graham Fountain

    kosh Guest

    hmmm one thing I have discovered with digital.... is that much like you
    need to get the best out of some films by slight over or under exposure,
    I have sometimes found it best to under expose shots (sometimes more
    than slightly) to compensate for the 'clipping' of highlights. Simply
    put, film does have much wider tolerance. Particularly evident when
    printing films in the lab of serious under/over exposure.... there is
    often enough detail to get a half way decent result.

    that said.... one of those clouds with the sun behind it REALLY is
    acting like a massive softbox.... it sure isn't helping.

    I would be tempted to do some more tests without such an extreme....
    though as reffered to in dpreview, you would tend to hope for better
    performance than what you got.

    one thought could be white balance... I have been playing with WB to
    warm and cool shots... I have found highlights tended to blow out more
    in some circumstances... What was the WB in the exif data?

    kosh, Sep 17, 2006
  10. Funny thing is, I find it easier to keep slide film acceptibly exposed
    than I do on this thing. Perhaps it is just getting to know the camera,
    but I can load slide into any of my film cameras, and 99% of the time
    when the meter says exposure is correct, exposure will be correct or
    very very close to it (they all have centre weighted average). I can
    easily read which shots are likely to need a bit of a twiddle on
    exposure and do so.
    On this Canon though, it's almost everything that needs an exposure
    change. The auto exposure seems to hardly ever get it even close to right.
    unfortunately, the S2IS won't do raw.
    seems a lot of work to get a result I can achieve by pointing and
    shooting on any other of my cameras. If I was to take a typical sunlit
    scene, put sky in the top third, the canon will give me a white sky
    every single time. Drop by 1 stop and I get a washed out sky, drop by 2
    stops and it is almost acceptible (cloud detail is still blown). Even my
    old Kodak digital and HP Digital would do better than that - the sky
    would be a little washed out, but not blown.
    i've pretty much been using it with -2 stop. I have to reset it though
    every time I change from P to Tv to Av to M etc.
    Actually I just discovered another spot where contrast can be set. I had
    previously thought it was only available in "My Colours" mode, which
    allows you to tweak contrast and colour balance, but nothing else (not
    even exposure compensation). I did just find where I can tweak it in
    other modes. It won't allow contrast adjustment in Black and White mode
    though. I'll give that a try in the morning and see if it makes any effect.
    Graham Fountain, Sep 17, 2006
  11. Graham Fountain

    Noons Guest

    I've got a similar problem with my "old" coolpix 950. One thing I've
    found: if I AE-lock on a brighter area, the blown highlight goes away
    but the shadow goes too dark. However, too dark in a coolpix means
    nothing: a session with GIMP or Picasa and levels or curves and the
    shadows come back to life, with the highlights staying put.

    IOW: blown highlights are lost forever but deep shadows aren't, they
    recover gracefully with a bit of non-linear curve editing. Might be
    a try for you as well? If you want to invest the time on it, of
    Otherwise, lay it at the door of Canon and get them to fix the darn
    curves in the camera firmware.
    Noons, Sep 17, 2006
  12. Graham, I have struggled with this issue since the beginning. With my
    first digital, an Oly E20, I ended up using center weighted averaging
    and trying to meter on the area of my choice. If the boxcar is the
    important object, meter for that, understanding that the sky may blow
    out. If you want the best average, meter on green grass or faces or
    something more of a neutral gray card in brightness. Then still check
    the result afterward. Digital just doesn't seem to have the latitude of
    film. RAW can be a workaround, acting more like a film negative insofar
    as being able to adjust exposure more afterward. But fundamentally
    speaking, you just have to learn the tricks of your particular camera's
    metering system and use them to your advantage.

    That having been said, I now have a Sony A100, which is supposed to have
    a DRO mode, or Dynamic Range Optimization. It reduces contrast in shots
    such as yours, and gives detail in all areas of the picture. I haven't
    tested it extensively yet, but there are samples in the dpreview
    discussions and the Sony website, I think. Some other cameras may have
    the feature as well. Something to look into.

    Gary Eickmeier
    Gary Eickmeier, Sep 17, 2006
  13. I've found even slide film to be a better bet with highlights. Last year
    I borrowed an Olympus E300, and ran into all sorts of highlight
    problems. I was shooting slide in my Pentax at the same time, and had no
    issues at all.
    Actually the sun was coming from my left - I wasn't shooting into the
    sun, as can be seen from the shadows of the blokes and the building.
    I just uploaded another couple of shots that also show the blown
    highlights. I have also processed some negs that I shot at the same
    time, which I will scan tomorrow (hopefully) and upload to show as a
    comparison. By just looking at the neg, the contrast doesn't appear
    anywhere near as great, plenty of detail present in both the highlight
    and the shadow area.
    These 2nd examples I think show that the camera has put too much
    emphasis on the centre, and pretty much ignored the brightness from the
    clouds. This is what you would expect from using spot metering, but in
    this case it was set to "pattern". I have another pair that I shot using
    centre weighted average, that are pretty much identical. So while my
    Pentax SLR, with it's centre weighted average meter has detected the
    bright sky and bright ground to the left, and adjusted accordingly, it
    appears the Canon is putting more weight toward the darker area, lifting
    the exposure of the dark areas and to hell with the highlights. Such an
    exposure curve would be acceptible for negative film, but not suitable
    for much else.
    I always manually set my WB to daylight. Stops some of the wierd WB's
    that result from auto, and gives me something predictable to work with.
    It's much easier to warm a cloudy shot that has daylight WB than it is
    to figure out what the blazes the camera did and try to compensate when
    it is on auto.
    Graham Fountain, Sep 17, 2006
  14. I would tend to believe that is the answer.
    Joseph Meehan, Sep 17, 2006
  15. Graham Fountain wrote:

    A lot of consumer cameras seem now to be set to deliver very "punchy"
    images - too sharp, too much contrast and too much colour. Experimenting
    and getting the settings adjusted (and written down) for your own needs is
    probably required in the first few days.

    -2 stops permanent exposure compensation does sound wrong, though.

    David J Taylor, Sep 17, 2006
  16. PS - another absolute solution to this problem, at least for available
    light photography, is the EVF. These cameras, such as the Sony R-1, give
    you a live preview of what you are looking at before exposure. If the
    sky is blown out, lower the exposure to taste. Color off? Change your
    white balance until it is right. Then shoot, knowing that you are
    getting the result you want, not becoming disappointed and frustrated
    afterward. I was strongly attracted to the R-1 for that reason. I think
    that is the way digital should be done, with live preview and live
    histograms and knowing exactly what you are getting. Kind of like a
    video camera. The only problem with it was the speed, or reaction time
    of the EVF isn't fast enough for action or other fast-happening
    photography, such as weddings or a lot of situations other than
    landscapes. So I got the A100, which is another of the new breed of 10Mp
    digitals. It is a sensational camera in all respects, but it is still
    digital, and I still need to learn its exposure metering and adapt to it
    to suit my needs and techniques.

    Seems to me that until the EVF is perfected, we all must rely on the
    "test exposure" to zero in on the result we want. For many subjects,
    there is no concern - the subject contains no high contrasts and the
    meter should do just fine. But be on guard for those exposures in which
    the high contrast could mean trouble. You will eventually learn how to
    meter them and get your results faster, if you don't keep switching
    cameras and confusing yourself.

    Gary Eickmeier
    Gary Eickmeier, Sep 17, 2006
  17. Graham Fountain

    Noons Guest

    Very weird result for pattern metering. Looks like it behaved
    mostly as centre-weighted and gave you the classic
    "black as grey" error result. Something weird going on.

    Anyways: I gave the dark one a bit of levels in GIMP just to
    show what I said in the other reply. Here:
    See what I meant by pulling detail out of very dark areas
    in a digital? At least it's possible, while blown highlights
    are definitely gone.
    Noons, Sep 17, 2006
  18. Graham Fountain

    Bill Funk Guest

    That particular scene will be very difficult, because you've got
    bright sky, and a subject that's in shade (no stark shadows suggest a
    cloud covering the sun).
    Very contrasy, difficult for any camera.
    We have a S2IS (it's my wife's camera), and it's not as bad as yours
    seems to be, from your complaints. It may be a faulty sample.
    However, there are workarounds, if you can't get it replaced. As
    you've found, exposure compensation will work, along with some
    post-processing, and AE-lock.
    But, with that particular shot, I believe my 30D would have problems.
    Bill Funk, Sep 17, 2006
  19. The metering mode makes little difference for these scenes as you should
    be manually setting the exposure. You shoot into the light often? For
    these shots (rail car, and locomotive) if you want detail and fewer
    blown highlights/lost shadows you need to wait for better light. Try
    evening or early morning. At least get the light coming from behind for
    the rail car. ....
    John McWilliams, Sep 17, 2006
  20. Graham Fountain

    kosh Guest

    so much for pre-visualising a shot.

    the only danger I have found with this approach, is you start taking
    shots and reacting to what you see on the screen rather than evaluate a
    scene..... it is a fundamentally different approach to photogrpahy...
    and I think gives far less satisfaction.
    perhaps it's the purest in me.... but you look at the numbers a lot closer.

    kosh, Sep 17, 2006
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