Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, January 4, 2016

Shotbox light box camera comparison

I recently received a light box from my Kickstarter investment and wrote about my initial impressions. One of the things that I wanted to investigate was how using different types of cameras would affect the process of making images. I decided to start by taking a series of shots with three different cameras: an iPhone, a Sony consumer level camera and a Canon professional level camera. I was concerned about image resolution with the iPhone since it was rated at 8 Megapixels and both my Sony and Canon are rated at over 20 Megapixels. But surprisingly, the resolution was not an issue. The real issue turned out to be white balance and the need for final post-production adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

There are three series of photos. The original photo was taken with the indicated camera. Each of the subsequent photos went through a cropping process and tone adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop. As you will see from these examples and my commentary, the post-production was significant in producing an acceptable image.

One of the neglected areas of genealogy is the preservation of historical, physical artifacts. Many of us have "heirlooms" handed down from our ancestors in the form of actual objects such as photos, letters, postcards, and a variety of handmade items. In addition to making a written record of our ancestors we need to preserve and share their physical legacy. The is one of the very first enterprises to address this particular need and issue at a consumer level. Light boxes have always been the purview of professional, commercial photographers and there are few inroads into the consumer level of photography and previously none, to my knowledge, directed at genealogists. will be at the upcoming RootsTech 2016 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The first set of images were taken with the iPhone.

iPhone Stage One
I used a Hopi pottery bowl for my test item. It was just small enough to fit inside the Shotbox, so when I took the image, it included the sides of the box. So my first challenge was to crop the image and remove the box edges from the picture.

iPhone Stage Two

I positioned the bowl so that there was at least a little bit of the black background showing on both sides. This image points out the physical size limitation of this particular light box. Most light box images, which include the vast majority of commercial photos of objects for sale are made in custom light boxes which are both very expensive and usually not portable. The light box has a workable space of approximately 14 inches by 14 inches. I then used Adobe Photoshop to remove the vestiges of the edge of the light box.

iPhone Stage Three
I took the resultant image back into Adobe Lightroom to make some final adjustments to clarity, contrast and white balance. All of the photos were taken with the exactly the same lighting conditions. The differences in color cast are from the imaging systems in the three different cameras. The iPhone produces a JPEG image and auto-adjusts the color in the camera but I spent some time making further adjustments. This is the final stage image.

iPhone Stage Four (final)
I would consider this to be a final image. There is one hot spot on the front of the object but otherwise this is a very nice representation of the Hopi bowl.

Now we go to the Sony camera. This is a Sony H-DSC-HX400 camera with a 20.4 MP sensor and 50x optical zoom lens by ZEISS. Here are the four stages for the Sony camera.

Sony Stage One
I got a distinct color cast with the Sony camera. All of these photos were taken with exactly the same light box lighting conditions using the standard LED lights that come with the

Sony Stage Two

I corrected the color cast in Adobe Lightroom but there was a small part of the outside of the light box visible in the upper right-hand corner of the image. So I took the image into Adobe Photoshop for some more adjustments.

Sony Stage Four

Sony Stage Four
I made some more adjustments in Adobe Photoshop and with Adobe Lightroom and removed the small part of the frame from the photo. This photo shows more of the texture of the bowl but has the same hot spot on the edge. I could have removed the bright hot spot with Adobe Photoshop be decided not to spend the time doing so.

On to the images made with the Canon D5 Mark II. This is a full-frame (35 mm equivalent) camera with a 21.1 Megapixel sensor. There are newer models of this camera. Here are the four photos.

Canon Stage One
The Canon camera exports photos in CAMERA RAW format. The image is essentially undeveloped and the camera makes no adjustments to the image. You can think of the image as a digital negative. What you see in this photo is very close to what I could see with my eyes while taking the photos. You can see that the colors are significantly different than those produced by the cameras with internal processing and JPEG images. 

Canon Stage Two
I still had a small portion of the frame of the light box to remove but I was able to do the initial cropping in Adobe Lightroom. I took the image into Adobe Photoshop and removed the unwanted artifacts of the frame. 

Canon Stage Three
I then took the image back into Adobe Lightroom for some final adjustments. There is still a small light hot spot on the edge of the bowl. The white spots on the bowl are actually chips in the original. 

Canon Stage Four
This Hopi bowl was made especially for my wife on one of her visits to the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. As you can probably see from these examples, taking a photo of an heirloom object is not as easy as it might seem to be. Snapping a photo with your smartphone may give you what appears to be a good image but the addition of a light box such as the and some post-production adjustments make for a more pleasing and accurate reproduction of the original. In addition, the type of camera you use really does make a difference in the final image. 

One thing I did not address is the depth of field. If you look closely at the iPhone images, you will see that the rear edge of the bowl is out of focus. That is not an adjustment I can make with the iPhone. However, with the Canon camera, I increased the f-stop to f22 and moved the camera back a ways and got the entire lip of the bowl in relatively good focus. These are the types of details that I can see happening and what makes me able to instantly tell the difference between cameras and the quality of the photos. 

As far as the color cast of the images, I really have no opinion. If you had not seen three different examples of the same bowl, you would not have been aware of the color differences at all. 

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