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Do you need the best camera?

I, probably as many other photographers, get the same questions all the time. Which is the best camera? Which one should I buy? Which one will make my photos better? (btw. the answers here are depends, depends and probably none) Since that is the case, I will share some of my though on this topic with you today.

Btw. If you goal is to show off that you have the best and priciest camera, that by all means get that. If that was the reason to buy, you probably don’t care about taking photos anyway, and it will just sit in some shelf somewhere.

When you don’t need a better camera

You often don’t need a better camera at all. To get better photos you usually need to change other things.

Is your composition good?
The most important thing about a photo is the composition. If your composition is bad, the photo is bad. And a better camera will not help you with this. Instead look for tutorials, guides, look at other photographers work and practice more.

Did you learn the basics?
Here I don’t mean just how to control you camera, but much more. Modes, histogram, focusing, choosing the best settings and so on. While the software in the camera is quite smart, you usually can get much more if you do things yourself. Even the best camera will not focus properly all the time, will not choose the best settings for what you need, and sometimes it can even make thing worse. I still remember the day when I switched to manual focusing. My photos became so much sharper instantly.

Do you edit your photos?
Continuing from the previous point. By post-processing your photos you can get much better results than directly from a camera. Try choosing a software you like and learning how to use it. Photoshop, Lightroom, Aurora or similar. Most are not that hard to get into and you can get them quite cheaply.

You maybe need something else
Maybe you don’t need a better camera, but an accessory. Again this depends on the type of photography. But maybe you need a sturdy tripod if you want to do landscapes. Or an external flash if you do portraits.

Do you need the best camera?

When you need a better camera

This is very depending on what you do. But here are few reasons.

You need higher resolution
This happened to me. As quite a lot of my photos end up being printer big, especially as wall sized posters, I just needed more resolution. I just can’t make a panorama of every photo. Also screen resolutions go up and up every year. 4k is equal to 8Mpix, 8k to 33Mpix. That is a crazy amount of pixels. And yes, there are upscalers, but they are not always the solution.

You need a faster camera
There are type of photography, where a fast camera and even faster focusing is a must. Sports photography is a good example here. If your camera is slow, you will not get the shot. It has to be able to save the photo quickly and focus even quicker.

Your work demands it
This is a bit indirect reason, but it can happen. For instance I bought a TSE lens, because I knew I would have to do over a 1000 interior photos for a client. So having this did make the whole work quicker and much easier.

Weather and dust resistance
Better cameras usually have better weather and dust resistance, and are made from stronger materials. You can see it if you compare a pro camera to a consumer one. There are much more resistant. My lenses fell on the ground, my camera fell, my tripod got bend and similar. Things happen. Everything works.

Do you need the best camera?

In the end, one has to decide for oneself if one needs a better camera or not. New stuff is always nice. But if you will not use anything from what the new camera will bring, what’s the point.

Focus blending

I wrote about focus blending a really long time ago, but as today’s photo is a really nice simple example, let’s shortly go over it here. With one part really close to the camera, the other far away, it’s really easy to blend them together if there is only water in between. The water will mostly not be sharp anyway, so you can just do one shot focused on the back and one at the foreground. Then just load both into Photoshop and using a simple graduated mask, blend them together.

I did the same for today’s photo, just with a small difference. I did it as a vertorama, where I changed focus between the shots. Some panorama programs will not merge a photo like this, but as I said, it’s easy to do it manually.

Snow covered rocks at the Danube

Behind the cameraIt was snowing quite a lot in Bratislava on Monday, but as the evening came, it all started melting. So I just had to go out to take few snowy photos before it all went away. I wanted a new nice photo of the snow cowered rocks at the Danube, and as the river is quite low right now, I got them.

This is a two shot vertorama, where I used two exposures for the top part (because I needed to tone down the bright lights of the castle) and one shot for the bottom part. Edited in Photoshop.

Snow covered rocks at the Danube

Topaz Labs

So after doing my first impressions article on the Topaz JPEG to RAW AI application two days ago, I thought I have a look at the second AI powered program from Topaz labs. The Topaz A.I. Gigapixel.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

You can guess what it does based on the name, but if you did not, it is to resize your photos into much bigger ones. Again, as with the JPEG to RAW AI, the interface is very simple. You just load the image, set the scale, noise reduction and output format. Then it takes few minutes to create your result (of course based on the size of the photo, size of the result and the power of your PC). Converting a 36Mpix JPG into a 1Gigapixel took around 5 minutes for me.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

Result examples

Since there is not much to talk about workflow, let’s directly look at some result examples. In all cases, on the left is a version resized to the same size using the automatic resample in Photoshop. On the right is the Topaz A.I. Gigapixel result. All the examples are quite big, as the difference is better visible then.

So first, just to illustrate the difference in size, here is a 100% zoom on a 36Mpix photo, and a 100% zoom after it was resized to 1 Gigapixel. The scale was set to 6x for this one, and yes, the difference is huge.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

Now let’s see the detail comparison. Here is a 22Mpix (19Mb JPG) photo from Dubai.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

After the 6x resize, it became a 684Mpix photo (551Mb JPG). So let’s zoom into the area in the center. First, this is a 50% zoom.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

And here is a 100% zoom to the same spot. You can see, the A.I. Gigapixel result has much more clarity. The machine learning algorithm really selects out the edges, and ads detail when it finds them. So the result is much more detailed, even if fully zoomed in you can see some edge artifacts.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

Let’s look at another photo from Bratislava. This was a 36Mpix photo (27Mb JPG) resized with the 6x scale to 1Gigapixel (783Mb JPG). Again, first, here is a 50% zoom.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

And here is a 100% zoom. As you can see, A.I. Gigapixel did really nice work here, with cleaning up the sky, and defining the church outline. It’s a bit worse on the trees, but there of course it has less to work with.

Topaz A.I. Gigapixel

Overall, it did quite a good job. If I would need to print something much bigger than it is, I would used this. The clarity it gives to the photo looks better than a straight up upscaled image.

There is a 30 day trial available on the Topaz labs website, so you can get it now and give a try.

Night lamp over Budapest

To break away a bit from all the Winter photos, here is a panorama I took in Budapest last summer. It was a crazy hot day. I wanted a bit different view of the city center, so I decided to include the lamp and part of the wall. Still, it was not easy to edit. The lights on the Chain bridge are crazy bright compared to it’s surrounding and even with multiple shots you get the area overexposed. So I sped actually around 2 hours on this photo, just playing with it to get it to a point I like. There is a random work-space shot I took when I edited it to the side here.

I’m a bit unhappy about the composition though. The laps is on the wrong side. Since the parliament in the back and the lamp are both the brightest elements in the shot, the whole photo is a bit out of balance. I would prefer the lamp to be on the right so the light areas create a frame around the bridge. If I remember, I will try and check if I can get a shot like that when I’m there next time :)

I was a bit lucky that there were only few people passing by. I did this photo as a two shot panorama, with each one from three exposures. Only in the last shot a couple stopped right in the middle of the photo, but luckily I could remove them. You can check my article about that here.

This panorama was created in PTgui (see here how) and then blended in Photoshop.

Night lamp over Budapest, Hungary

And here are few details:

Night lamp over Budapest, Hungary

Topaz Labs

You probably already heard of Topaz Labs. The are the creators of many different photo editing software and Photoshop plugins. And today they have a new one.

The Topaz JPEG to RAW AI allows you to take a JPEG and convert it into a RAW. Quoting from Topaz, it uses machine learning to help you recover shadows/highlights, expand color depth, remove JPEG compression artifacts, save results as DNG or TIFF files.

I got to try the pre-access version, and since the full one goes on sale today, I will share with you some of my though about it.

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI has a very simple interface. You could call it a image converter, as that’s all it provides. It converts your JPEG into a RAW. You can only choose the input file, choose how strong the noise and blur reduction is and then the output path. You can then choose you output format, being either DNG or TIFF.

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI

In the first version I got, I was not able to open the DNG results in Camera raw or Lightroom, but there was an update since then and now both results work fine.

So all you need to do here, is to load the file and save the result. It take up to a minute to create it, based on the photo used.

Result examples

I did not take a JPEG photo in a very long time. So to try this out, I vent back into my photo library, and I chosen few photos from my photography beginnings.

So fist, let’s look at this photo taken in Liverpool in 2009. There are a lot of shadow areas, so it would be a good candidate for conversion. In all screenshots you will see the original JPEG on the left, the converted DNG on the right. (all these screenshots are quite big, as you would need to see it bigger to see the details)

First impression is, that it cleans up the chromatic aberrations very well. It also added a lot of clarity and sharpness to the photo. In the zoomed image you can see it quite noticeably on the buildings decorations.

But lets open the shadows, and let’s see what effect it will have there. I put shadows to +100 and added one stop of exposure to both version in Lightroom.

I especially like how clear the sign looks in the DNG version. While the overall brightness in the DNG did not change, the photo is much cleaner, sharper, the clarity is much better. Overall is much crisper than the JPG.

I tried to match the result I got using Lightroom, but no luck. Each time I bumped the noise reduction, I would get a blury mess, not a nice crisp result as I got from the Topaz JPEG to RAW AI.

Let’s look at two more photos. The results are quite the same. The boost in clarity and sharpens is quite high (maybe even too much on the nature photo), but I have not noticed much of dynamic range expansion.

If you want to check it out for yourself, here are the original JPGs and the TIFF and DNG conversions for download.

Overall, Topaz JPEG to RAW AI can give quite an impressive result. Will probably never use it on one of my newer photos, but if I need to enhance and older one, or a mobile photo, I give it a try. Also in times when I need to edit a photo for a client, and they only have a JPG, this can come in handy.

If I’m not mistaken, there should be a trial available, so head over to Topaz Labs website to give it a try.

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