Photographic Quality


Here's a potted history my digital cameras, newest to oldest, and some details of the methodology I employ in creating BeebMaster photographic images.

Canon EOS760D

Following the success I had been having with my 1200D, I bought an EOS760D in March 2016. It's a slightly older model than the 1200D but from a very marginally higher-spec part of the Canon DSLR range, so the maximum picture pixel size is a little bit bigger (6000x4000) and it says it will do 5 frames per second on continuous shooting, which is very handy for carriage processions and what-not! Naturally it has a different power adapter and battery pack than the 1200D, so I had to buy a wadge of spare batteries all over again!

Also, as it's a bit older, it didn't predict memory cards of the capacity we can get now, so it only has 3 digits for the pictures-remaining count, which sticks at 999 till the card is getting full!

In June 2017, for the first time, I used both my Canon DSLR cameras at the same event - Her Majesty The Queen's Birthday Parade, on Horse Guards'. The idea was to switch between cameras for close-up and wide shots, rather than trying to change lenses during the parade, and it worked rather well. What didn't work so well was that I didn't synchronise times on the two cameras till part way through the day, so reviewing all the images in date-stamp order showed an incorrect sequence of events! Luckily I have a pretty good idea of the order of ceremony these days!

Canon EOS1200D

This camera arrived at the end of July 2014, and I've been very impressed with it. I'm glad I went back to Canon for my first digital SLR camera. It's the first camera I've had with a battery pack rather than standard AA or AAA batteries and it lasts for ages, something which has not been the case with my previous cameras. Shortly after it arrived, I bought two spare batteries and a mains adapter.

The camera came with an 18-55mm lens and I bought a second hand 55-250mm lens for closer shots of distant objects. In February 2015 I bought a 70-300mm lens and I'm saving up for a 16-300mm Tamron lens, so I won't have to keep changing lenses when I need to do different distance shots in the same session.

For the first time with this camera, when I press the shutter, the picture is taken. With all my previous cameras, there's been a delay before the picture takes, usually making me miss the subject or ending up photographing it out of focus.

One major difference I've noticed is with focusing. Generally with my earlier cameras, the whole shot has been in focus when taking a picture. With the Canon DSLR, focusing is on a very specific point, and depth of focus causes foreground objects to be in focus with the more distant objects looking unfocused. I'm gradually getting used to how it works, still experimenting with aperture settings.

The new camera has also caused a significant increase in image size. I still process the photographs in the same way, but the final images are much larger than with my earlier cameras. Photo sizes of 300-400K are now becoming more common, although with the universality of high-speed interweb these days, I don't think it's much of a problem.

Sony DSC-H200

This thing was a bit of an emergency measure after the Canon one broke down in September 2013, and turned out to be a dreadful, dreadful mistake.

Although it had by the far the best specification of any of my earlier cameras, with 20 megapixels, 26 times optical zoom and high definition video capture, it is positively the worst camera I have ever owned. Its performance is spectacularly weak and has let me down on every occasion I have used it.

It is monumentally slow at focusing on moving objects, not bothering at all most times, hopelessly sluggish in charging the flash and only has minimal basic settings which have clearly been designed for, and probably by, simpletons. There's no macro focus mode and I have no proper control over the shutter speed and ISO setting. It is not possible to graduate the flash so nearly every picture taken with the flash comes out over-exposed. It doesn't even have a mains power facility and the battery life is shockingly short, and when the camera unexpectedly shuts down in the middle of a shot, it corrupts the card memory. I will never buy another Sony camera ever again.

It took about 9 months to save up for a digital SLR camera.

Canon Powershot A650IS

I bought my fourth digital camera in May 2008. It has 12 mega-pixels, a 6 times optical zoom and the ability to capture video, optical viewfinder, sensible batteries - this one takes normal AA size batteries (four of them, mind you!) - and storage on SD card.

In February 2011, I bought a conversion lens adapter and telephoto lens to allow me to take better pictures of The Royal Wedding.

This model is by far the best but there were still occasions when I couldn't quite get the picture just right. Over the years I have refined camera settings and evolved ways of working which maximise the chances of getting a good result.

In September 2013 after my Canon camera suddenly broke down - the viewing screen stopped working, just outputting a field of grey. Although the camera itself can still take photos, there is no way of reviewing the images or altering the settings as the screen can't be used. It can in fact plug into a television set via a composite output to see the display, but you can hardly carry a 14" portable around with the camera.

HP Photosmart 935

My third camera came a bit later after the second one unexpectedly broke down due to a "firmware error". I wanted the same model again but I got a slightly upgraded one in the end with a few more Mega-Pixels, an HP Photosmart 935. I kept this one in use till I upgraded again in May 2008 to the Canon model.

HP Photosmart 735

In November 2003, the picture quality issue reared its head again. I was in the middle of taking a set of pictures of how to fit a SCSI interface to a BBC Master for my Domesday section and I just wasn't getting anywhere with the webcam. I went out and bought myself a new digital camera, an HP Photosmart 735, which was really my first proper digital camera.

Webcam and Scanner

My first digital camera wasn't much more than a webcam and it really struggled to capture the level of detail needed to show some of my things at their best. It was fine for family snaps but show it a bit of circuit board and it would go into a coma. As time went on, the pictures improved as I got used to standing on the table whilst taking a picture of something on the floor but the finished result still left a lot to be desired.

In August 2003, I was given the idea of putting smaller items under my scanner. This is not something I had thought of before but I am pleased to say that the improvement was immeasurable. As an example, see the "before" and "after" pictures of my Econet prototype modules below.





I am certain that you will be able to tell the difference, although I very rarely use this method now, as my later cameras have given me a much better result.

Methodology

Much of the photography used in BeebMaster needs fairly small details to be seen very clearly. I like crisp, sharp pictures. I'm not into this soft-focus, fluffy-edged romantic stuff. The on-camera display is too small to be able to tell most of the time if the full-size picture is going to be any good. Two pictures taken more or less consecutively can produce vastly different finished results. So as a general rule, I take two or three photographs of each shot and then use the best one of each for the website.

I crop the pictures to include all the relevant detail and then rescale them and save them on a reduced picture quality. I used to impose a quality of 70% in JPEG which vastly reduces the file size, initially aiming for a maximum file size of 100K, because BeebMaster didn't go broadband till February 2006. I've relaxed this rule somewhat nowadays, and I now use a JPEG quality of 90% so that pictures sizes of up to 500K are becoming more common.

I've periodically increased the standard picture size to 1,280 pixels across from earlier maximums of 1,024 and 800. Screenshots taken with the camera, and some other items, are sized to 640 pixels across, although camera screenshots are rarely used now, except when I'm out in the community. Some smaller pictures are at 400 or 512 pixels, used for secondary images inside main image pages. In my Royal section, there is the odd special picture of 2,048 pixels.

Logos for sections are usually either 400 or 512 pixels across and the small images used in all the picture links are 200 pixels across. I used to put "Previous" and "Next" links as a navigation feature at the bottom of some picture sets, with green back and forward arrows overlaid on an image from the set. I don't do this any more but the existing pages with these have link-pictures at 75 pixels across.

Since November 2008, I have been using Ubuntu as my main PC operating system, which has some very natty features to save me oodles of time in picture editing.

I used to have to select, crop, resize and rename each picture individually, and then do it all again to produce the preview sized images for each picture set, which used to take longer than any other part of making my website.

But now all I have to do now is select the pictures I want from those downloaded from the digital camera, crop them and save them into numbered picture sets. I do the cropping with a very old version of GThumb which breaks on every Ubuntu distribution update, but I have always been able to get it going again. The version I insist on is the last version which allows freestyle selection for cropping - just click one corner for the start of the crop, drag diagonally to make a rectangle and let go. Later versions have the crop box pre-drawn and require you to click and drag the top border, click and drag the left border, click and drag the bottom border, click and drag the right border. What would possess me to want to do that for every picture on my website??

It's such a deal-breaker for me that I use my spare laptop as a guinea pig for each Ubuntu upgrade to make sure I can get my old version of GThumb going before I will let it anywhere near my main machine.

Then the resizing, reducing quality, renaming to the "big" prefix and creating the small previews images all happens automatically thanks to a thing to "Phatch", which stands for Photo Batch Processor. I just drag in the set of images, load one of my settings for 1,280 pixel images - or smaller in some cases - and then again for the 200-pixel sized previews, and it all happens in a few seconds!

Unfortunately, Phatch isn't supported in Ubuntu 18.04, so I have been using Converseen since autumn 2018. It's actually easier to use than Phatch, but doesn't support saved settings, so the conversion parameters have to be input each time.

There's statistical information about the pictures on BeebMaster here.





Updated 1st January 2019