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RAW or JPEG? (IQ #3)

Welcome to the third in a growing series of articles aimed at improving the IQ (Image Quality) of our cameras. Today's topic is Raw versus JPEG shooting.


One of the bigger questions that new DLSR buyers face is whether to use Raw mode or continue shooting in JPEG mode like they always have. Before deciding whether to shoot raw or jpeg (or both), we need to understand the difference, and the implications when out shooting.

What is a raw file?

  • A raw file is not an image file yet, at this stage it's simply data that can be used to create an image.
  • Needs specialised software to convert to an image file.
  • Is typically a proprietary file format. Each manufacturer has their own raw format, even different camera models use different formats. Some open-source formats exist (such as Adobe's DNG) but these are not overly popular.
  • All images start out as raw files, even out-of-cam jpegs. The camera sometimes converts the resulting raw into a useable photograph.
  • Has a higher bit depth of 12 or 14 bits compared to 8-bit jpegs. This gives less chance of posterisation, especially in the darker areas of an image
  • Has a much larger file size than a jpeg - if a standard 10MP jpeg is 2.5MB, then an uncompressed raw will be around 10-15MB. Can either be compressed or uncompressed.
  • Has not had sharpening, white balance correction, tone curve, saturation, contrast, noise reduction, etc applied yet.
  • As a result has higher dynamic range and the potential for the best possible image quality

A raw file is therefore suitable if you plan to edit the images yourself before printing. Jpeg files will have most of the corrections readily applied. This means that once you get your files on the computer you have less chance to heavily manipulate them.

Botched up a shot? It'll be very difficult to correct in jpeg while being very easy to correct in the raw development stage.

What is a jpeg file?

  • A jpeg file is a regular image format. It's extremely widespread and is probably the most common image format out there. It stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group.
  • Doesn't need any extra software to view. Most web browsers are capable of viewing jpeg files easily (check individual settings though)
  • Since it's already converted, it can be used 'as-is' - making it great for a fast workflow.
  • It is extremely compressed. You can fit much more onto a single memory card. Almost no compression artifacts visible in superfine and standard jpeg files.
  • Had all major settings applied already.

Therefore, a jpeg file is extremely suitable for printing straight from the camera. Usually you can apply some styles on your camera (such as 'Vivid' mode) for added or reduced effects.

If you're looking for a quick and easy workflow then opt for one that is jpeg-based. However, there are programs like Adobe's Lightroom that work great to speed up a raw-based workflow. However, each file will still need a conversion to a jpeg to be useable.

photographers have to get it right more often when shooting jpeg...

A jpeg is great for sports photographers because of the reduced file-sizes, increased buffer capabilities, and ease of transmission. A news editor doesn't have the time to stay converting raw files!

The biggest negative is that photographers have less latitude on the computer. They have to "get it right" more often when out shooting. Some cameras also benefit greatly from raw as they have weak built-in jpeg converters.

So which to choose?

Ultimately, it's a matter of convenience versus ultimate quality, which is always down to personal choice. You can't print a raw file as quickly as you can a jpeg. Then again, you can lose quality editing a jpeg file while losing nothing in raw.

If you've made your choice, then that's great. For everyone else... Food for thought.

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Asus Eee PC: Overview

Eee PC front In June 2007, Asus released the revolutionary new Eee PC. Originally intended as an ideal first computer for elderly citizens and children alike, the Eee PC has instead proved very popular among power users of Linux and a few business users.

What is it exactly?

The Eee PC stands for Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play. Realising that most people use laptops for internet-based applications such as Web Browsing, Emailing, Instant Messaging, etc, Asus built this machine around those kinds of requirements. It is touted to offer Complete Mobile Internet Enjoyment.

Why is it so 'Revolutionary'?

The Eee PC is a great little piece of kit.

By little, I actually meant tiny. The sub-notebook (?) is not much larger than a hardcover book, and much smaller than conventionally sized laptops. The keyboard is also said to be fairly decent, despite the smaller size. The same can be said for the trackpad.

Weighing in at just 920g and running a 900MHz Intel Celeron Processor with (typically) 512MB worth of RAM, this laptop ought to cost more than what is being asked for it.

It's cheaper than some mobiles and much cheaper than anything in its class. It isn't meant to compete with bargain notebooks, although it will inevitably be compared to one due to its low price.

How good is it for a Photographer?

For digital photographers who have been searching for an ultra-portable solution to back up their data on the go. It's especially suited to the travelling photographer who needs the small size. However, there are a few drawbacks, especially for a photographer.


  • 7-inch screen not great for extended photo viewing & editing — 800x480 resolution not perfectly ideal, but still seems to be serviceable.
  • Limited hard drive space — because of the nature of solid-state memory, the Eee PC typically comes packed with just 4GB worth of internal memory. At least it's easy to overcome this with cheap external solutions.
  • Slightly cramped keyboard & trackpad — but not too bad according to reports.
  • Most significantly, it doesn't come with Windows XP pre-installed. Instead, it is running a custom version of the Linux OS. This keeps the price down since Linux is free. It is possible to install Windows XP though, and the Eee PC even comes with instructions on how to do it.


If you're looking for an ultra-portable laptop that still offers decent usability and is pleasant and fun to use, almost certainly get the Eee PC. If you really demand a lot of power from your computer and rely on Windows software, then consider a pass. However there are thousands of alternatives to the Windows software. Open Office is pre-installed, for example (replacing MS Office).

It's a seriously compelling device.

  • Suitable for: People who need it uber compact and lightweight, and have only basic needs (email, internet, document work, photo/video viewing, etc). Also for photographers looking for this kind of portability.
  • NOT suitable for: Demanding users, gamers, and people who rely heavily on Windows-only software (although thousands of free Linux-based alternatives exist).

Find out more

Additional images

(All pictures open links in a new window to their originating website)

from from from

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    Noise Reduction Methods (IQ #2)

    Welcome to the second in a series of articles aimed at improving the IQ (Image Quality) of our cameras. Today's topic is noise reduction methods.

    What is Noise Reduction?

    Noise Reduction (NR) is a set of tools for the photographer to use. Image noise generally comes from shooting at high ISO speeds on your camera. Typical noise reduction tools include dedicated NR software and filters. For this tutorial, we'll be focusing on using NR software in Adobe Photoshop CS2. (Latest version: CS3)

    The NR program I used in this tutorial is Noiseware Professional Plug-In, but any good NR software will do. Before using Noiseware I was using Neat Image for a very long time, you may want to try that. You can also use the noise reduction filter in Photoshop, but I don't recommend this. It isn't as good as dedicated software.

    First Things First

    Firstly, you need to open your image. Find yourself a noisy image to try out different techniques. As I said I'll be using Noiseware but you can use any decent NR program. Noiseware and Neat Image both supply free versions of their software if you want to use those. You don't even have to use Photoshop, as they offer standalone versions of their software. I used Noiseware's Photoshop plug-in version to try out different strengths of NR and combine them with other filter effects.

    the Luminance slider affects the grain-type noise, while the Color slider affects the coloured noise

    Once it's open, try out different noise reduction strengths. The Luminance slider affects the so-called “salt and pepper” type noise; this is monochromatic and much like film grain. The Color slider affects the more “digital-like” noise. This typically looks like unsightly coloured blotches (called chroma noise). With both sliders, moving it right increases the noise reduction, and moving it the other way decreases it.

    Keeping the Detail

    often, an image which you thought was far too noisy turns out great with a quick pass through NR software... what they're capable of is astonishing

    At this stage, it's important to try achieve a balance between noise reduction and image detail. Very often the automatic settings do a great job here. By applying more noise reduction you sacrifice more and more and detail. Once everything's fine and dandy click ok.

    Once you compare to the original you'll realise what a huge difference some NR can make. Often, an image which you thought was far too noisy turns out great with a quick pass through NR software. What they're capable of these days is rather astonishing.

    Using the “Faux Detail” Method

    If you're happy with the resultant image, keep it. You can try this technique if you're not completely happy yet, or just want to learn a new technique for later down the road.

    Once you have your image, apply some very strong NR to it. Adjust your sliders a long way to the right. This will create a noise-free image (or almost), but will have lost tons of its detail in the process.

    There is a way to create some “faux detail”, making it seem as if the image is grainy but detailed at the same time.

    After you've applied the strong NR, go to Filter >> Noise >> Add Noise... Apply the following settings:
    Amount: around 4%
    Distribution: Gaussian
    Monochromatic (important)

    Once you apply this filter, you'll see the image come to life. Before it seemed to be botched and lacking detail due to aggressive noise reduction, now it'll appear to be full of detail yet not too bad in the noise department. I'm not sure exactly how this works, but I think this is because the added noise is working to mask the lack of detail, thus tricking the eye into believing that it's actually very detailed.

    Below is a noisy image taken with my Nikon D40. It was taken at ISO Hi-1, equivalent to ISO 3200. It shows the image at various stages. The first is the original, untouched image. The second has been processed using the method described in Keeping the Detail, and the last has been processed using the Faux Detail method.

    the last one looks the best... it looks cleaner, with less noise and more detail

    In my opinion, the last one looks the best in this particular example. Especially around the double-0 button, it looks cleaner, with less noise and more detail. The noise that is there seems to be of a finer quality.

    Try this technique on your own images and see which works best for you.

    Final Tip

    By the way, it's very important to try and get your images as untouched as possible when shooting in high ISOs. This means shooting in raw mode and disabling any in-camera NR that may be occurring. What the camera has to do in less than a second, your computer can do in a lot more time and using specialised tools. It's better to leave the noise reduction to your powerful NR software than your camera or raw converter. For digital compacts, it's going to be difficult to get any sort of result from them. In this case try your best with what you've got.

    That's it for this edition of IQ. I hope you learnt something, see you another time!

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    Blurriness & How to Solve It (IQ #1)

    Welcome to the first in a new series of articles. These articles are aimed at improving the IQ (Image Quality) of our cameras. Today's topic is blurring.


    we all know that feeling... coming home to find your shots all blurred!

    One of the most common problems with images is that a lot of them tend to come out blurry. We all know that feeling... you think you've taken some great pictures, and couldn't wait to see them larger, share them with friends, maybe even print a few. To your disappointment; you find out later that they're blurred! Sadly, there is no real magic fix to image blur. There are 3 major types of blur that can ruin any photograph.

    Types of Blur

    • Camera Shake
      This is by far the most common type of accidental blurring in a shot. Thankfully it's also easy to solve, or at least reduce. It typically looks “shaky” for want of a better word. There might even be streaks of the lighter parts of an image, or even a “double image” sometimes.

      camera shake

      CAUSE: Too long a shutter speed and, as is most often the case for bad images... bad technique by the photographer - (“What?? How can it be? Surely it's my camera!!”). You need to analyse your camera's settings before you take the photo.

      as is most often the case, it's caused by bad technique

      SOLUTION: There are a number of ways in which you can prevent camera shake. Most notably is to get yourself a tripod, and more importantly, use it. I know many people who have tripods at home yet still complain of blurred photos due to camera shake. If you don't have access to a tripod, try steadying yourself against something like a wall, or a tabletop. Breathe slowly and surely to slow down your heart beat and less the chances of shake.

      Another solution is to change the exposure settings to allow more light. Very often you'll get camera shake due to low light and/or non-optimal settings. Oh and another thing. If you can, invest in some gear which has image stabilisation. This will help with steadying the image, especially at longer focal lengths.

      The most obvious way to allow more light in is to create more light - by using a flash. This won't always work and can cause some nasty effects on your images. The best way let more light in without losing the natural lighting is to:
      — Increase your ISO sensitivity (e.g. ISO 100 to ISO 400)
      — Open up your aperture (give it a smaller number e.g. from f/4 to f/2).

      This will admit more light through the lens, resulting in shorter exposure times and sharper pictures.

    • Out of Focus
      This is when the main subject is not sharp enough compared to the rest of the image. This is different from camera and/or subject movement because it involves the use of focus and not motion to determine sharpness.

      out of focus

      CAUSE: This comes from either the automatic focusing of your camera, or the manual focusing by you. When you're manually focusing, it's hard to get it perfect, and often you'll miss by only a bit, but this will still be enough to render your subject much softer than you intended. When using autofocus, it's pretty hard to ensure 100% accurate focus, but still easier than with manual focusing.

      pay attention to how the focus plane moves when you turn that 'ring back and forth...

      SOLUTION: When manually focusing, make sure that you pay attention to any focus aids present. Nikon SLRs have a green dot which lights up when the subject is perfectly focused. When manually focusing in live view, many cameras have a magnification option, which magnifies the image quite a bit to ensure critical focusing. Pay attention to how the focus plane moves when you move that 'ring back and forth. Also, take multiple shots at slightly different focus distances if you can't be perfectly sure.

      When using autofocus, make sure that your subject is over the correct focus point e.g. the centre. Make sure that the AF has enough light and contrast to work with - a common sign is when the camera starts “hunting” to achieve focus. In this case either switch to manual focus or move the focus point to an area which has enough contrast — NOT white walls, for example.

    • Motion Blur
      Perhaps the hardest type of blur to control. This is directly related to shutter speed. It is when a moving subject is too quick for the selected shutter speed and is rendered as a blur.

      motion blur

      CAUSE: When light levels are low, or the subject is very fast, the subject is rendered as a blur. This is due to the shutter speed not being fast enough. Image stabilisation and tripods are NOT going to help you here. They can only deal with camera shake.

      set your shutter speed to around 1/500 for sports — preferably even faster

      SOLUTION: Increase your shutter speed to around 1/500 for sports — preferably even faster. Sports players move extremely quickly and it's important to capture them sharply. For people (portraits, party shots etc) try to stick to around 1/60. You can go down to 1/30 if you ask them pose, but watch out for camera shake in this case. If you don't have the necessary light think about increasing your ISO speed or opening up your aperture.

    Additional tips

    Don't be happy with just one shot. Keep shooting repeats! Digital is free. While in one shot they may be moving, in another they might be still. Time your shots for when they won't be moving as much if possible. Pay attention to your shutter speed settings to avoid motion or camera shake. Also, look at your LCD for some feedback on how you're doing. It's essential to zoom in to really check if you nailed focus and to check for signs of movement. Finally, while blur can be used to make a good photo, more often than not it's an image defect and not a 'feature'.

    That's it for this edition of IQ. I hope you learnt something, see you another time!

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    New look

    Astute Photo has been given a facelift!

    While I liked the serif fonts and the contemporary, reserved colours, I felt that it was the right time to make a change. The main text always felt a little cramped and with this new look it has room to breathe.

    List of major changes

    • New look and colours
    • Centred layout with blue background either side
    • Blog search feature
    • Moved entire sidebar to the right
    • Ways to subscribe to the blog on the right
    • Labels list right under subscription options on the right
    • RSS feed is now driven by FeedBurner
    • Changed bullet lists. We now have 3 types of bullets (including these ticks on the side). More space in between list items now too
    • Created a cute little favicon to replace the default blogger one. This is what it looks like: favicon. You should also see it if you look at the web address listed in your web browser. (What's a favicon?)
    • A host of other smaller improvements to improve readability

    So there you have it. In the process of changing to this fancy new, modern look the blog lost quite a bit of horizontal space. This basically means that wide images will look a little too wide. Still, I've got a good 500 pixels to work with.

    Old layout

    click to zoom
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    Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5 - 5.6 VR (rumour mill)

    Hot off the rumour mill!
    It's now official! See the press release (external link)

    Image by: stfbfc on flickr.

    Nikon appear to be poised to release a new 16-85mm lens later this month - in time for PMA. The new lens seems to be a replacement for their 18-70mm f/3.5 - 4.5.


    • Adds VR mechanism: This will give roughly 3-4 stops of stabilisation.
    • Obviously, it's an AF-S lens, which means that it will focus with the D40 / D40x models.
    • Starts at 16mm. The extra kick at the wide angle compared to the 18-70 means you get a very wide 24mm equiv. FOV.
    • A bit extra reach - 85mm. Won't make much of a difference, but it makes it a nice all round 24-128mm lens for the crop bodies.
    • It's a DX format, G-series lens. This means that it will work on DX bodies (D40, D80, D300, etc), but will only work on the D3 in DX-crop mode.
    • It's a G-series lens. It has the disadvantage of not having an aperture ring. Forget working it on old manual-only film cameras. You have to set the aperture electronically via the camera.
    • Slower! This lens is a very slow f/5.6 at the long end. At least they gave it VR to compensate slightly. Making it slower means that they've been able to keep it relatively light and compact.

    What it might be like

    Most probably, sharpness levels will be very similar to the already excellent 18-70mm, maybe slightly better. Size and weight also appear to be similar. It will almost certainly be positioned slightly higher than the 18-55 VR kit lens. Focus speed should also be faster than the 18-70.

    Pricing? Release date?

    I haven't really heard anything reliable on pricing, but it appears that it will be around $300 / €300. Release date will probably be just before PMA, later this month.

    UPDATE (3rd Feb 08)
    Still no word on an official release date, however we do at least have some word on pricing. The RRP appears to be at £429.99 / €642.00 (roughly $850 - $950)


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