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April 30, 2005

Flash!

I bought an SB-600 flash today, to use with my Nikon D70 DSLR. I've been salting away some of my allowance, trying to strike a balance between having folding money to spend at Anime Expo this summer, and having a flash to use indoors at the convention. I finally hit that balance, and Suburban Photo had it in stock (for the first time in months), so I went for it.

I don't know squat about using a flash, so I just hooked it up and took a few photos to make sure that it wasn't dead on arrival. This is an example of the output.

You can see the four 'quickie' shots I took this afternoon at my Flickr account. "Initial Flash Test" is neat, since it was taken in a dark bedroom, by flash only. With the white balance set to flash, and a little levels adjustment, I got the image you see here. "Bounce Flash and Incandescent Chandelier" was to test whether the flash overwhelmed an already lit image. I think it's a little washed out, but okay. "Ambient Daylight and Bounce" is very interesting to me, since the light from the back yard is behind my subject. Without the bounce flash, I think Jean would have been a bit dark in the foreground, while the window would have been bright. The sidelit "More Ambient Daylight and Bounce" is just a variation on this theme.

Another interesting facet of these photos is that I used a different RAW converter than the usual Adobe Camera Raw converter (ACR) that comes bundled with Photoshop CS. I was reading a thread on the D1scussion mailing list about a recent controversy. Nikon is now encrypting white balance info in their RAW file format (NEF) for the D2X camera. Adobe has made noises about perhaps not being able to support this RAW file format in ACR, since "the DMCA makes reverse engineering criminal". I think it's really about jockeying for position as to who gets to control RAW formats, and who has to pay license fees, but it's getting talked about a lot.

One poster on the list mentioned that as a professional photographer, he didn't have time to convert each RAW file by hand, which is a limitation of ACR. Instead, he uses a commercial RAW converter that can do batch conversions given a set of parameters. So he'll choose a white balance, sharpness, etc. that suits a set of NEFs and then convert them all to TIFFs in a batch. Two tools were mentioned: Capture One, and Raw Developer.

They both have demo versions, so just for chuckles I downloaded them. At $100 and $70 respectively, I can't really justify buying them for my rather amateurish efforts. But I thought it would be fun to play with them. Capture One allows you to use the full feature set of the tool for 15 days. This is the converter I used for the photos I converted from the flash. Raw Developer lets you use s demo version forever, but puts a small print message in the middle of your photo encouraging you to buy. I plan to do conversions using both these tools and ACR, then compare the output. My chief criterion for useful software is a tool which is better at producing nice conversions with presets. So far I like Capture One best. If I were buying, I'd have to come up with the extra $30 over Raw Developer. But in reality, of course, I'll most likely continue using ACR, since it's included in Photoshop.

Posted by dpwakefield at April 30, 2005 08:00 PM