Getting off Auto - Extra Extra!

With the last thread talking about choosing a camera & lens stuff, I thought a thread on the various accessories available might be of interest – and Hazy did suggest it too!

There’s a never ending list of vital bits & pieces you cannot possibly live without (well, if you’re prone to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome anyway)). How many are really useful is debatable of course!  So, with all the usual caveats about Canon-speak and links to the original Settings, Exposure+, Post-production & Choice threads, let’s start with something contentious to get people arguing :-)

Ahhh, that age old question; to filter or not to filter. Filters – that typically screw into the front of a lens, but sometimes slot into a holder instead – come in various types.  Some are essential in certain situations, so we’ll start with those.

A polarizer cuts out some reflections on water or glass, allowing you to see through such surfaces like this.  First without

and then with

You can still (just) see the reflection, but it's all but removed, just by twisting the filter

But they also help saturate colours, particularly noticeable with sky & clouds.  These two are completely unprocessed, just converted to jpg



You can get this effect in post production of course, but it's often easier to judge the effect whilst looking through the viewfinder.

Very useful, but be cautious if using it on a UWA (Ultra Wide Angle) lens as the effect can vary across the frame and look odd.

ND, Neutral Density, filters cut down the amount of light to the lens. This is useful should you want to take long exposure pictures in decent light, often used to get this silky water effect

But they are also available in graduated form, where only half is dark, half clear. These help to balance the exposure in a picture with more dynamic range than the sensor can cope with, you simply line up the division on the horizon to avoid blown highlights in the sky. 

ND filters are available in various Stop values, often in sets. Buy decent quality ones or they’ll have strange colour casts.

Ok, so now we get to the filter that spawns more discussion than the “Which is best, Canon or Nikon” question. The poor old UV filter.  In the world of film, UV filters were handy as film was susceptible to UV light (though in later years, film was better and less likely to need one).  Digital sensors do not need any UV protection, so UV filters are totally un-necessary – despite the blurb on the packet saying “Designed Exclusively For Digital Cameras” (and that’s on a £46 Hoya Pro1 one).  They are still popular add-ons however, being sold as something to protect your lens from bumps and knocks.  So, should you buy one?  Filters will increase the likelihood of you suffering flare and ghosting – flat filter, flat sensor is a recipe for disaster and they will reduce image quality.  These two pictures show the difference – no processing other than a straight conversion from RAW.  Yes, I deliberately took the pictures to induce flare, but the image without filter is clearly better. 

With UV filter

Without UV filter

Will it be enough to notice in real life? Unlikely in most situations as long as you buy a decent one, but it’s not logical to put a £5 filter in front of a £2k lens.  You may even get occasional AF problems with a filter attached, so, if you’re experiencing any dissatisfaction with your pictures, before doing anything else, take off the filter to make sure it isn’t causing your problems and use a lens hood instead.  Filter glass will break far more easily than the front element of a lens and that introduces the possibility of scratching it after a small bump the bare lens would have shrugged off.  Some of the filters seem impossible to clean oily fingerprints off whereas the bare lens is fine with a lenspen.  Taking all that into account however, the choice is completely yours and many people swear by them, though for the record, I use a hood on my lenses and the money I save not buying UV filters I spend on insurance instead!

OK, swift comfort break, then onwards....


Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • As photography is all about light, it’s worth bringing up the subject of flash. Many cameras have a built in flash, but they tend to be a bit weak and because the light source is close to (and in line with) the lens, they do tend to give that startled rabbit look to any pictures you take with them (and red-eye), along with hard shadows that are pretty unflattering.  An external flash can help overcome those issues, especially if you get one that allows you to bounce the light from a nearby flat surface (wall or ceiling for example).  It’s also possible to use various diffusers on a flashgun, which help soften the light. 

    Some examples, using my able assistant Ozzie.

    Direct light from the built in flash (7D2).  A bit blasted poor chap!

    This time, direct flash but from a separate flashgun mounted on the hotshoe.  Not so blasted (better control of the light, light from a broader head than the built in one). Camera this time 5D3.  Oz was looking at me for this one too - so you get green-eye (the cat equivalent of human red-eye) as the flash reflects off the back of the eyeball

    This one is with the flashgun head set at 45 degrees and using a Sto-fen diffuser (about the simplest diffuser you can get).  These give a softer light than a direct flash and is often more pleasing.

    Finally, this one is without the diffuser with the flashgun pointing straight up (so reflecting off the ceiling).  This gives a very soft light, in this case maybe too diffuse because the ceiling at this point, whilst white, is sloping - most of the light is actually reflecting away from Ozzie.  However, the fur detail is clear and shadows give a more natural result

    If you want to get the best possible results, you’ll want to look at off-camera flash, utilising wired or wireless triggering.  If you want to get into this seriously, check out Strobist (and the associated Flickr group) for loads of suggestions and tutorials.

    The other sort of flash you might be interested in is a ring-flash.  This is used for macro work and gives you a circular flash around the lens.  You don’t get many shadows with these, but they deliver excellent light right where you need it.  If you want to give the picture more depth, you can shield off half the ring-flash with tissue paper (lower the output on that half) or look for a macro flash with two little heads instead (each head can be separately controlled).  There are now also some excellent LED based continuous lighting setups for macro work, which may actually be better for many applications.

    Remote release cables can be very useful, particularly when using the camera on a tripod for landscapes or macro. They allow you to stand back from the camera a bit to see what’s happening and, especially when used with mirror lock-up, reduce camera shake caused by you touching the camera when firing the shot.  Many cameras have built in support for wireless remote triggers as well, which can be even easier, though you may find an extra-long wired one is more reliable if you want to set up the camera pointing at the bird feeders and trigger it from indoors.

    Spare batteries, CF/SD cards. There are pros and cons of having one ginormous memory card or several smaller ones.  Lots of small ones means you’re not going to lose all your pictures should a card fail, but you’ll be changing them more frequently which is hassle and raises the risk of bending pins.  Pin bending, especially with CF cards, is also a good reason to use the built-in USB to transfer files from camera to PC rather than taking the card out and using a separate reader on the PC (though that is often faster).  Make sure you get a card of a fast enough rating for your use, or you could slow down the frame rate and fill the buffer faster as the camera struggles to write to a slow card.  Be very careful when buying memory cards, there are large numbers of counterfeit ones out there so play safe and buy them from reputable suppliers only.  The same advice goes for batteries; it’s generally OK to use 3rd party batteries in your camera (though the camera manufacturer may disagree!), but once again, get a “proper” 3rd party brand rather than some dodgy knockoff from your favourite auction site, it’s very easy to end up with counterfeit ones.

    At some stage in your camera’s life, the sensor is going to need cleaning. People are very wary about doing this, but it isn’t difficult and much cheaper than taking it to a camera shop to do.  Buy a quality sensor brush, cleaning fluid & swabs and you should be fine.  Visible Dust are probably some of the best you can get, albeit with a premium price.  You shouldn’t have to clean the sensor that often – I seem to manage with once a year or less.  To work out whether yours needs attention, close the aperture right down and take a picture whilst pointing it straight at a clear blue sky (many advise white paper, but personally I find a clear blue sky better).  Check the pic full size on the PC screen and look for tell-tale blotches.

    Cameras normally arrive with a strap in the box, but these are not often particularly comfortable, so you might want to look at a replacement one. All sorts are available and it’s worth looking at what’s available if you’re getting a sore neck.  I like the Optech ones, they have a wide neoprene strap that’s comfy and stops the camera slipping off the shoulder.  If the camera is on a big lens being carried on the tripod, I can remove the bulk of the strap and clip together the tails attached to the camera – this makes it more convenient in use.  Mrs WJ uses a Black Rapid strap a lot with her camera.  The camera hangs upside down by your hip on a strap slung across the body.  It’s a bit of a leap of faith the first time you dangle your precious kit from it, but it’s a comfortable way to carry a heavy combination around.

    Tripods with their associated heads is a whole topic all to itself. There are a huge variety of shapes and sizes at all sorts of price points.  The key points are to accept that you’ll likely need more than one if you’re doing a variety of photography; don’t buy cheap and expect it to be stable; don’t believe the manufacturer’s load rating.  For example, a lightweight setup for hiking in the mountains looking for landscape shots is going to be different to one to that required for big lenses when birding.  A low-spec ball head that flops when using it is a pain (sometimes literally if it ends up trapping your fingers when the camera flops forward).  Try some out at a shop if possible, see if you like the leg locking mechanism, check the length when folded down (does it fit on your rucksack, in your suitcase when going on holiday etc).  Carbon Fibre is normally lighter, but can be expensive & often the bulk of the weight is in the head, so don’t ignore aluminium versions completely.


    Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • In reply to Whistling Joe:

    Another thread to bookmark, thanks Joe for all your work, and thanks too to your able helper Ozzie, what a stunner.

    Lot to learn

  • In reply to gaynorsl:

    Brilliant thread WJ, thanks once again for taking so much time to explain everything  ....  and thanks to the gorgeous Ozzie for being such a willing guinea-pig cat ;  I hope you gave him a special treat for his dinner that night lol       I only ever tried a UV filter once on my old 600D  and it was the Hoya Pro 1   which I discarded after a couple of months and now leave the lens hood on instead  - its a learning curve !!    I guess being fairly new to photography there is a lot to take in but I always hated the idea of adding anything to my lens (for general photography), either filters or extenders as I always felt I was taking away (even the tiniest) quality from the lens.  As I remember you once saying,  if you find you have an extender attached most of the time then you should have bought a longer lens  - so true !   although I wouldn't be able to handle a 400+ prime due to the weight of them.         You've certainly given a lot of food for thought there WJ and once again I will bookmark this thread so I can refer back to it when I feel that certain GA syndrome coming on  lol

    I'm with Mrs WJ with the Black Rapid strap,   I am so glad I purchased it .......and so are my arms and shoulders  !        If I start  GAS-ing and thinking Arca Swiss, etc,  I'll get back to you for some advice  lol  


    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • In reply to HAZY:

    Ozzie gets far too many treats as it is - he's a master of rubbing up against you with an adoring look on his face until you give him some grub!  Actually I was surprised he sat still that long; normally he comes to look at what you're pointing at him and you can't get pictures from a few mm :-)


    Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • In reply to Whistling Joe:

    really useful thread, thanks :)

    see my photos on Flickr