Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cameras and Cruising

Those of us who are out cruising are either fulfilling our dreams or living out a nightmare.  Either way, most of us want to record our adventures in photos so we can share them with our friends and family, and so we can look at them when Pam puts me in a home.

If you recall, I left my digital camera out in the rain.  For some bizarre reason, it stopped working.  I was very sad.  I liked that camera.  It was a higher end Fuji point and shoot and I thought it did a fine job.  When I finally gave up trying to dry out the Fuji and knew I had to buy a new one, I decided that a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) might be nice because the quality and features are just a tad better than what I had.  I went to Wolfe Camera in Savannah and a sales lady named Savannah (I know!) was very helpful.

Now, I didn't do much research into cameras and what I should buy.  I knew I wanted a couple of decent lenses with image stabilization, but beyond that I hadn't a clue.  Savannah (I know!) fixed me up with a nice rig, a Nikon D3100 and an 18 - 55mm lens and a 56 - 300 mm lens, along with a spare battery and carrying case.  I discussed this camera here before, but today I want to go into a little more detail.  The D3100 takes impressive photos, but I think what I'm more impressed with is the photo editing software that came with it.

But before I get into that, let me explain about the types of image files this camera creates.  You professional photographers are welcome to correct anything dumb I say, so feel free to just jump right in here in the comments section. 

Point and shoot cameras create JPG images (also called JPEG, which stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the committee that created it) which are fine for snapshots and adequate for most applications, but DSLRs also create RAW (unprocessed) images.   A JPG image can be thought of as a Polaroid instant photograph, and a RAW image can be thought of as a negative, a digital negative that contains information that makes for more robust editing of the photo.  Let me show you.

Using my camera's electronic menus, I've set my camera to create two images of each photo, one JPG and one NEF (Nikon Electronic Format), which is Nikon's version of a RAW file.  The JPG image below was grossly underexposed and if taken with my old camera, it would have wound up in the recycle bin.  The camera's firmware created this processed JPG photo based on the information the lens gave it.

With Nikon's software, called View NX2, I edited the NEF file and I was able to increase the exposure by a factor of three.

I then played with the color and light settings a little and the final product is what you see above.  Working with a digital RAW file on a computer is akin to working with a film negative in a photo lab, only without the red lights and chemicals.

The software also has many settings to fine tune a RAW image file that can dramatically change the mood of a photo.   The JPG photo below was taken on an overcast day.

 It's flat, dull, and uninteresting.  I probably wouldn't have trashed this one because I like the composition, but it's certainly not that good of a photo.  The image below is after changing the light setting to "sunny".

I also enhanced the colors to more accurately reflect what I saw.

I'm certainly no photographer and I've had no training in how to properly use the camera or the software, but I think the tools are good enough that even average folks can get good results after studying the manual (OK, I'm a guy.  I skimmed it) and experimenting with the software.

So when you're putting together your cruising budget and preparing to cast off the dock lines, add a $1,000 line item for a basic DSLR.  It's money well spent.   And heck, if you're not ready to go for another five years or so, these things will probably be down to around $100.  Come down to Savannah and ask for Savannah (I know!).


  1. Wow, that comparison shot of the river is very impressive. I have a nice older Nikon D-70 but I've just been taking JPG's with it. Time to crack open the book and learn a bit about shooting RAW.

  2. Great pic's Dave! Guess I ought to read the directions once in awhile.... Sure hope the Whaler works as well your camera!

  3. Well, you motivated me, Dave. I've got a Nikon SLR, but have never used the ViewNX software except to organize, rename and re-size my pics. I have downloaded and am installing the latest version and will dig in and see what the excitement is all about.