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Old Apr 8, 2007, 1:22 AM   #1
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Hey guys,

I hope this is a valid place for this post -- I considered the Nikon thread, but I thought that this might just be a problem due to my general photography ignorance.

I've been messing around with coding some chroma-key stuff at my job (I'm a physics grad student) which required me to do a bunch of research on lighting and playing with our SLR. It got me interested in figuring out this whole photography thing, so I asked for a Nikon Coolpix P4 for my birthday. Being a physics lab-rat, I don't generally get out very much, so I mainly wanted a semi-compact camera for indoors.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I've been taking some absolutely amazing outdoor shots, and some absolutely terrible indoor shots. After sitting down for a while and trying to figure out why my indoor shots look terrible, I started getting some results which made me fairly happy. See below.

[align=center] NOTE: If the image says "FORBIDDEN" or doesn't show up, just reload the page.

Here was my first shot

The colors looked all wrong and I thought it looked pretty bad, so I tried to edit the settings as much as I could. Unfortunately, I didn't save my config, but the EXIF data is present if anybody cares. I was happier with this one:

Another comparison: Same as before... fuzzy, washed out. Changed the settings...

New settings -- looked good (to my newbie eye, at least)

[/align][align=left] So I was happy with the results for the most part. Then the next day I had a party. This is where things got ugly. Unfortunately, a bunch of different people took these pictures. And some of them thought they'd change from my presets to automatic. Either way, everybody complained that the pictures were coming out blurry. I present evidence:

This picture was literally taken about 10 times before a semi-clear one came out.

She was barely moving here!

And for no reason as far as I could tell, this is where my camera began a 10 minute spree of taking sharp, blue pictures.
So, I guess my question is, is this my fault? I mean, I know point-and-shoot cameras aren't great under low-light conditions, but a $300 camera shouldn't be taking photos that are consistantly this blurry, should it? Don't get me wrong: there were some very, very nice pictures. At least 1/5 of them were completely ruined though, and I'd like to figure out how to minimize that.

Any advice would be welcome. If I left out some obviously crucial piece of information, it's because I didn't realize that it would be important. Just ask and I'll try to clearify.

Thanks guys!
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Old Apr 8, 2007, 1:54 AM   #2
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You have the EXIF stripped from every photo. Crop and resize the originals in the freeware Irfanview.

Your eye adapts so that indoor light looks fine. It usually isn't enough for good handheld photos without turning on the flash unless you have stabilization or a camera like a Fuji f30 that can do a decent job at very high ISO. Stabilization doesn't help for subject motion.

Most cameras will display the shutter speed you are using after you half press the shutter. You need a minimum of 1/30 second in wide angle and 1/120 second in telephoto if you have a very steady hold and there is no subject movement. That is using a camera with an eyelevel viewfinder so it can be steadied. The P4 probably needs more.

If your subject is moving you obviously need more shutter speed. Turn the flash on and you won't have a problem.

You can probably crank up the ISO in the menu to generate more shutter speed, but you get noise as a result. Your results are normal for handheld shots indoors without flash using a point and shoot camera.

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Old Apr 8, 2007, 6:26 AM   #3
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Post them here.

the Hun

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Old Apr 8, 2007, 9:39 AM   #4
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Hmm, sorry about that. Try this link. This should have images with the EXIF data preserved.

Thanks for your response. I'm a little unclear on how exactly the flash solves the shutter speed issue. Any chance you could clarify that?

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Old Apr 8, 2007, 11:54 AM   #5
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As a general rule, small compacts aren't good at low light without flash.

There are three ways the camera can adjust to get enough light to get a good exposure:
1. use the widest aperture (lets more light in)
2. use higher ISO "sensitivity" (makes the camera more sensitive to light)
3. use a slower shutter (so exposure takles place over a longer time)

In your good test shots, I see you did the first, using aperture priority to set the maximum aperture (which is the lowest fstop). But that alone wasn't enough. You also have ISO 50, a low ISO, so the camera ends up needing a long shutter time to get proper exposure. It's at 1/4 sec. Normally it would be difficult to handhold a shot at less than 1/30 sec without blur from camera motiion. But your camera has IS, which did a good job there. And you got some sharp shots.

In your party shots with that setting, like this, you can see that the background and furniture are generally in focus. So the IS is working there to counter camera movement. But it can't do anything about the people moving. So they come out blurry. The only way to prevent that is a faster shutter.

The orange and blue color tints are due to white balance problems. Some of the orage ones are with auto white balance, so your camera may be doing a poor job with incandescent light with auto white balance. This is a fairly common problem though. You can counter this by using an incandescent preset or manually setting the white balance. It looks like you did do the latter, and the white balance was generally good when using your manual setting.

However, in the shots taken with flash, the same manual setting shouldn't have been used, as it was set with the warmer incandescent light. This is what is causing the blue photos. Unfortunately, it looks like no one tried flash with auto white balance? That probably would have worked well!

The reason the pictures are sharp in the flash photos, is that the duration of the flash is faster than 1/1000 sec (I think more like 1/10,000). So that's the actual duration of the exposure for subjects within the flash range.

Your best bet with that camera is probably to use flash, auto white balance (or a flash preset), and ISO 200. That model won't do very well with ISO higher than 200. Using the ISO 200 in combination with the flash though will help to increase the flash range. At low ISO you might get more of the kind of flash shots where the nearby subject is exposed but the backgroud is dark.

On (IMO) the best shot there, this one, the small amount of motion blur actually worked pretty well. It was also at ISO 158. Though the shutter was still very slow, the higher ISO increased the exposure a bit.

One other thing, if you just want the best results from camera, without postprocessing, you might want to increase the sharpening settting a bit in the camera. But best results would be obtained by doing your own processing in something like photoshop.

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Old Apr 8, 2007, 12:57 PM   #6
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Wow, that was some incredibly useful information kenbalbari, thanks for taking the time to explain it. Having just gone back to look at all of the party pictures, it's now clear that all of the ones that came out great had the flash fire and for the most part the fstop was f2.7/f3.0. I actually couldn't tell much difference between the pictures taken with those settings at ISOs between 50 and 200. Maybe I need to do some more experimentation.

Either way, thanks a bunch for helping me isolate exactly what was going wrong. One question I have left is, for white ballancing, I know you recommended using the incandescent white ballance option before. My camera actually has a "flash" white ballance setting. Do you think that, when using flash, this would be more desirable? Also, for manual white ballancing, is there a standard technique that people use? I've just sort of been throwing a piece of white paper in the general area of where I'm going to be shooting and setting it that way. I don't think that my camera can do that with a flash though, unfortunately.

Again, thanks!

[edit: oops, I just read my manual and apparently a neutral gray object is supposed to be used with the custom white ballance. oops.]
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