Playing With My Nikon (sounds dirty)

My very first SLR camera, the Nikon D5100, arrived last week and I took it out for a spin. I still have a lot to learn about the camera so I’m mostly shooting in auto and scene modes with jpeg quality. I’d eventually like to shoot exclusively in RAW to take advantage of the extra detail (my old camera took too long to write RAW photos to the card so I used it sparingly), but I’m still experimenting with the best approach for post-processing, so for now jpeg will suffice.

This first set of photos were shot in Allentown, NJ with the kit lens.

I’m digging the low-light performance.
I’m not positive but this one may have been taken with the in-camera HDR setting.

The photo below takes advantage of the camera’s selective color effect. I know I could probably achieve the same thing in photoshop, but I think it’s pretty cool that I can do it in-camera.

The next two photos were taken after my new Sigma 18-250mm zoom lens arrived. I wanted something versatile for traveling so that I can avoid having to change lenses and I think this will meet my needs (I love how fast it focuses). It even has a short minimum focusing distance, which allows me to take macro-type photos like the ones below:

Tiny green bug on a flower petal looking back at the camera.

Now that I have a good SLR camera it might be time to take this hobby to the next level and enroll in a photography class…

Venice in HDR

Venice: The Grand Canal (original)
Venice: The Grand Canal (original)

Lately I’ve been messing around with HDR photography. Normally that involves merging multiple versions of the same photo taken at different exposures, but I’ve also read that you can create a pretty good approximation of an HDR photo from a single RAW image, so I figured I’d experiment with one of my older photos.

I thought the above photo of the Grand Canal in Venice was a good candidate given the contrast between the light and dark areas, so I used Adobe Camera Raw to create three different image files: the original photo, an underexposed version, and an overexposed version. When I merged them in Photoshop, the overexposed photo washed the image out too much, so I only ended up combining the normal and underexposed versions. I then applied a bit more processing to the final image.

I’m still very much a novice at this HDR stuff (and with photo processing in general) and I kind of rushed through it, so the results are not ideal, but I think the final version below is a decent first attempt at a pseudo-HDR photo. You can click on the photos to view larger versions.

Venice: The Grand Canal (HDR)
Venice: The Grand Canal (HDR)

Like many HDR photos, this has a bit of a surreal feel to it, but with a little more time to tweak settings, I probably could have made it look more realistic.

On a side note, this photo was taken with my Panasonic FZ-40, a megazoom point-and-shoot. I am considering upgrading to a DSLR and have been eyeing the Nikon D3100 or D5200. If any photographers out there have any advice about these (or other cameras), I’d love to hear from you. Although I’m never going to be a professional, I feel that I may be outgrowing the limitations of my megazoom, particularly its performance in low light.

Update:
Just minutes after posting this to my blog, I saw a deal on eBay for a refurb Nikon D5100 with a kit lens at a price that was just too good to pass up. I normally steer clear of refurbs but the company, Adorama, seems to have a good reputation among the photography community, so I pulled the trigger.

So it’s official, I’m a DSLR guy! Now, to shop for some accessories and a good all-purpose zoom lens…

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