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Old Sep 1, 2009, 1:14 PM   #1
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Default Need Advice On Photo Quality

I'm basically a newbie to photography. I have a Panasonic Lumix FZ-18, and I have been taking pictures in AI mode, which is the point-and-shoot setting. The pictures are in JPEG format.

I've noticed that some photos tend to have a lot of "noise" or blotchiness to them in certain areas, especially if I use the zoom or if I crop a photo. It seems to occur more in distant objects, the ones outside of the focus area.

Is this because I'm shooting in JPEG? Or is it because I'm using the automatic settings??

I've been making a lot of progress with my composition, but I really need advice on clearing up the image. I took a great picture, blew it up to 18 x 24, and was disappointed in the lack of sharpness and clarity, and the amount of pixel noise.

Thanks in advance!

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Old Sep 1, 2009, 3:37 PM   #2
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This is a huge topic. I'll indicate a few of the entry points for what you are concerned about. First, a given photo will have less sensor noise if the ISO setting of the camera is lower. Faster settings create more noise. I have the FZ-20, which is an older Panasonic ultrazoom. I normally leave the ISO set to 100 if possible to limit the sensor noise.

Second, you have a series of adjustments you can make in your camera's setup menu for Picture Adjustment: Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, and Noise Reduction. You can increase the Noise Reduction setting (which will cause some loss of detail in the image in addition to reducing the noise). Alternatively, as your manual notes, you can turn down the Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation.

Third, you can post-process your images. This is generally a better option than setting your camera to greater Noise Reduction, because it is applied to the images that need it instead of being applied indiscriminately to all your images, as is the case with changing the Noise Reduction setting.

There are a lot of programs that can sharpen your images and reduce the noise. NoiseWare, Neat Image, and Noise Ninja are three well-known examples. These programs work reaally well, and most of them have free versions that you can try to see if you like them. Typically, the free version either expires after a tryout period or only allows you to save to JPEG, often deleting the EXIF data when they do so. But the registered versions are usually pretty inexpensive, so find one that you like and get a registered copy. If you use PhotoShop or the like, you can usually get the noise reduction program as a plug-in for that. Otherwise, they usually have a stand-alone interface you can use.

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Old Sep 2, 2009, 9:15 AM   #3
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One possible cause of '"noise" or blotchiness to them in certain areas, especially if I use the zoom or if I crop a photo' is due to shake. Shake being any non deliberate camera motion while the shutter is open. This will show up more with a long lens (or digital zoom which is the same as cropping).

A tripod with a remote shutter release (or using the timer) is the ultimate solution to the problem of shake. Leaning against a wall/post/tree/... when shooting will help, and there are techniques for hand holding which will also help.

An old rule of thumb for hand held shooting says that your slowest shutter speed should be 1/(focal length). With your camera's 504mm (equiv) focal length, that rule says that you shouldn't shoot slower than 1/500 sec at the long end of the zoom. And if you are using the digital zoom (bad idea), you have a 2000mm (equiv) focal length so shouldn't be shooting slower than 1/2000 sec.

Look at the EXIF data for your bad photos to see what zoom/digital zoom/shutter speed combination was used.
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