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 and you can see the finished result here.

In June 2020, I bought a tripod. The idea was to prevent "camera shake" by having the camera mounted on the tripod instead of handheld. I also bought a remote control switch so I don't have to touch the camera at all to take a picture. The tripod is a Primaphoto PHKP002, which is a fairly basic type, but it serves my purposes very well.

In December 2021, I bought myself an early Christmas present in the form of a Canon EL-100 external flash, which fits both of my Canon DSLR cameras. It's only an entry-level model, but for my first external flash, I wanted something simple to try out. The recharge speed is the main benefit, it's possible to take multiple flash photographs almost continuously, which has never been possible using the internal flash.

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 in February 2016, a 16-300mm Tamron lens, so I don'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.


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 save them as consecutive numbered pictures in a set.

When it comes to using the picture set for publication on the website, some more processing is done. Previously I would process them to a standard pixel width, and save them at reduced 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 85%.

I've periodically increased the standard picture size to 1,600 pixels across from earlier maximums of 1,280, 1,024 and 800, and I no longer pay attention to the file size at all.

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 still use Gthumb, since November 2020 I have been using my new desktop PC with Ubuntu 20.04 which wouldn't let me revert to an older version of Gthumb, so I am on the latest one, but looking for a better picture editor as it's completely ruined from the old version I used to love.

For many years I used Phatch to create the large images to a specific pixel width and the small thumbnail pictures. This was discontinued in Ubuntu probably in 2017 or 2018 or thereabouts, so I started using Converseen which is a resizing tool which is actually simpler to use than Phatch, but you can't save any options so you have to feed it the dimensions for the output images each time.

Since October 2020, I have no longer been resizing the published pictures, so there isn't a standard pixel width any more. This means that the website size is going to increase exponentially as picture file sizes of several megabytes are now becoming more common. Original sized pictures are displayed scaled to fit the browser width, with an option to reload the full-size picture by clicking its top-left corner.

In April 2021, I realised that it was no longer necessary to use a GUI tool to process the picture sets into the image files for the website, because it could easily be done with a couple of lines of bash command line, so I built that into a little script and all I have to do now is select the files to be processed, right click and invoke the bash script command to do the work.

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

Updated 1st May 2023