Noise in Digital Camera Raw Files – How to Measure it

After writing two articles on the Nature of Light and its relevance to digital photography, I found that the subject of noise still fascinated me and decided that I had to make some measurements. Looking at the wiggly waveforms of my previous article might indicate that camera A is noisier than camera B but can we measure the noise in a rigorous way? This present article explains how to do that using free software. As well as presenting graphs of the measurements I have attempted to explain the results from physical principles – and evidently the noise is predominantly photon noise (aka shot noise).Selection_026

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How the Nature of Light affects the performance of digital cameras — (Part:2) Noise

ImageJ-G9
G9, pixel plot across sample

In the second of two articles I look at another natural phenomenon, photon noise (also known as Shot noise). As with diffraction blur, the problem becomes more serious as the physical size of the sensor is reduced.

Whilst this is not the only source of noise, it is now the dominant one in the darker areas of an image where only a relatively small number of photons are incident on the sensor. It is the counting of photons, which is subject to Poisson statistics, which produces the noise.

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Click here to read the first article: Diffraction blur

How the Nature of Light affects the performance of digital cameras — (Part:1) Diffraction

G9-f8-2.38
Image of a point source: Blue = Intensity, Red = Sensor output. Computer model of G9 at f/8

Reducing the physical size of a camera, even if the total number of pixels is maintained, inevitably reduces the quality of the images because of two fundamental properties of light itself. This technical article looks at diffraction, usually explained by considering light as waves. A future article will look at photon noise, explained by considering light as particles.

A simple rule-of-thumb is established for determining the “diffraction limited f-number” by relating this to pixel pitch on the sensor.

The earlier, pre-digital, criterion for diffraction limited aperture (based on required print sharpness) is revisited and considered to be still valid – perhaps with a little sharpening.

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Test Cards for Monitor Adjustment – An Update

Test Cards - 1Test Cards - 2Basic adjustment of monitors and projection systems

When I last updated my page on this subject (2012) I decided that it was best to offer the test cards as .png files and leave it to the user to assign a profile (presumably sRGB) and to view the result in an application such as Photoshop. For convenience, I have now added a version of each test card with sRGB profiles assigned and saved as jpegs. These should be viewed in an application that is colour aware (i.e. one that recognises and uses the embedded profile).

Click here for Test Cards page

Raw Processors: Which Demosaicing Method?

Comparison of Demosaicing Methods available in Free, Open Source Raw Processors

My previous article included a table listing the various demosaicing algorithms offered by the four raw processors considered and I wondered why we (as users) needed such a wide choice. The table is reproduced below.DemosaicI decided to investigate those offered by RawTherapee by looking closely at the detail in an image of tree branches against the sky – the same part of the same raw file processed by each of the algorithms.

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Which Raw Processor?

Comparison of four free raw file processors: RawTherapee, Darktable, Lightzone and Photivo

With the exception of Darktable, which is not yet available for Windows, all of the applications are available for Windows, Mac and Linux. All are free and open source downloads.

I am looking for a raw file processor that will allow me to develop raw images to produce files ready for projection (at 1400 x 1050 pixels) and files at full resolution for further development, as necessary, to make high quality prints. I don’t expect to print directly from the raw processing application though this might be an advantage.

I have used both RawTherapee and Darktable for over a year and have recently tried Lightzone and Photivo so I will restrict my comments to these four.

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Photographing Aeroplanes in Flight (also works for Airplanes)

As part of a recent event in Saddleworth, we were treated to a flypast of a DC47 Dakota. Perhaps a few tips on how to photograph this sort of subject would be useful to others facing a similar challenge.

Allowing the camera to make the decisions on speed and aperture is not a good idea in this case, so let’s get back to basics. When I first took up photography I was told that the only S A F E way to take a picture was to consider (shutter) Speed, Aperture, Focus, then Expose.  Read the full article

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Showing 30 degrees of blur on the props

Photographic Competitions

There has been much debate amongst amateur photographers, since we “went digital” about just how far we should be allowed to go in producing creative images – where should we draw the line particularly with regard to eligibility for photographic competitions? My thoughts are as follows:

Before I enter my photographs in a photographic competition I should have a clear conscience about two things; that they are my photographs and that they are my photographs.

The first point, relates to authenticity, defined as “Real, actual, genuine; original, first-hand; really proceeding from its stated source, author, painter, etc.” (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).

That would appear to be the easy bit. More difficult to answer is the question, in relation to any single image, “Is this a photograph?” (in the sense of “Should it be allowed in a “photographic competition”?”) We might require at least 50% (of the area?) of the image to be photographic. But what about the other 50%? Even if not photographic it must be authentic, i.e. created by the stated author – not plagiarised!

I believe that if we are to produce a set of rules or a code of conduct we should avoid explicit reference to commercial products, particular tools, plug-ins or whatever. It is quite clear that if you use a brush in your post processing that is circular (hard or soft) it is a mathematical entity and does not embody another person’s artwork – if on the other hand it is shaped like a butterfly it should not be allowed, not because it is not a photograph but because it is not yours.

Personally I would similarly not allow the use of textures, whatever the source (built in or plug-in) if they are not yours. Your textures are the ones that you photographed or scanned on a flat-bed scanner. In this context, I have no problem in regarding the output of a scanner as a “photograph”. Problems obviously arise if, for example, you scan a watercolour painting (your own) and enter that in a photographic competition – a digression best avoided.

Whatever rules or guidance we formulate, we should not worry about “policing”. I believe this is often used as an excuse to do nothing. I am sure that I could win medals using some of my wife’s unpublished images; nobody is policing this – my conscience prevents me doing it.