Sunday, October 14, 2012

NEX 5N Experimenting with HDR, Panorama...

Forground/Background - NEX-5N HDR Test After
In-camera HDR applied
Forground/Background - NEX-5N HDR Test Before
Straight exposure, no HDR applied
Another trip to the hospital to see my wife and check up on her after her surgery. She now has a new right shoulder. Unfortunately she'll have her right arm strapped down for a few weeks after being released. Afterwards she's hopeful she'll have her old Olympic softball pitching arm back. I told her to wait until spring training and then we'll find out.

After leaving the hospital I went back into downtown for a little more shutter therapy for me and a bit of experimentation with more of the 5N's built-in features. This time I was playing around with it's in-camera HDR and panorama capabilities.

Based on what I came away with today, Sony's implemented HDR with subtlety in mind. Which is a bit surprising, considering the 5N is aimed at the enthusiast consumer. I had expected the HDR feature to be more garish in nature, but it appears to be implemented with a photographer's eye. The top photo shows what happens after in-camera HDR is applied. Detail in the darkest part of the image (the shadows) is lifted up significantly, but not so that it overwhelms. Note that there are still completely black areas in the lower bushes. The sky towards the horizon has been darkened just a bit to bring out a touch more color and saturation. The cloud in the upper right corner has more texture and detail, and isn't completely white in its center.
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts - NEX-5N HDR Before
Before HDR applied
The 5N's in-camera HDR isn't without its issues. One of the classic problems with HDR of any strip is moving objects. The upper photo is a single exposure with no HDR applied. Note the car on the street. Now look at the lower photo where in-camera HDR has been applied. The moving car has been captured multiple times and shows up as overlayed images. The rest of the photo shows the benefits of HDR, especially in the shadows.
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts - NEX-5N HDR After
After HDR applied - note the car in the lower left corner
If you're wondering how I was able to show two photos of the same scene, one before and one after HDR application, the 5N did that automatically. It's a nice touch; you can decide later which photo you want, the one with HDR or without.
Under The 408 - NEX-5N HDR Experiment
All of the photos except for this one were taken straight out of the camera. All of them show a strong blue cast. The photo above was adjusted in Lightroom to make it more neutral in color. Those colors on the concrete are very close to what I see. This particular shot of the underside of the 408 shows both the older concrete construction and the newer steel addition. The photo also contains more detail in the shadows between the beams without the garishness I see too often in hand-tweaked HDR photos. It also brings back a touch of light blue in the sky in the upper left corner, which is also all I really want. That light blue was the real blue I saw. This was early afternoon shooting towards the east.
Under the 408 Panorama - NEX-5N Pano Experiment
408 Panorama
Finally I gave the in-camera panorama feature a whirl. Literally. I had to practice my panorama technique, which consists of holding the camera and moving it from left to right. It took a number of attempts to do this right because I wanted to just sling the camera around and grab a full 360° panorama. Unfortunately you can't do it with the 5N (or I can't). The 5N would stop and yell at me that I was moving to fast, and would I please slow down? So, after finding the right rate of movement, I finally grabbed a few panoramic vistas under the bridges. About the best I could do in practice was about a 120° sweep. This image, except for resizing, is straight out of the camera.

The camera seemed to do a remarkably good job of stitching the images together which includes correcting for lens aberrations. Verticals are remarkably straight for a hand-held sweep, and the only reason the bridge tops curve is because they do cover a good portion of the scene, and so they must.

There are a number of reasons for using the in-camera features such as HDR and panorama, and they all have to do with collapsing the workflow in post processing. You can buy all sorts of tools to create equivalents using the camera's raw files, then stitching everything together in post. But that makes for a lot of extra effort, especially when what you're after is documentation rather than "art". There's nothing wrong with that kind of art, and there are many magnificent examples done in post. But a lot of us just want to document the scene and move on; we've got too much to do and too little time, or so it always seems.

It should be noted that all of this must be done with JPEG. Selecting Raw output disables all these features. For a little over $400 I'm quite happy to have what I have in the 5N.

It is impressive the amount of computational processing that the 5N is capable of achieving in so small a package. In a small hand-held package I have the ability to perform some rather impressive "post processing" right as the still photo is being taken. Whether it's layering the images for HDR or stitching them together for a panorama, the Sony NEX 5N makes experimentation and documenting the world in the large extremely easy to accomplish.

I think I'm going to try out the 5N's video features next. This should be fun.

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