Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Over My Head

In the course of fiddling away yet another day of my dwindling stash of them, I was potchkeying with my camera. I have had it for two years or so and it is already obsolete and superseded by a newer, better, and even more potchkey-worthy model. I am still learning how it works.

I discovered today that it has white balance bracketing.

White balance, for camera illiterates (that is to say, the Irish) is the color cast of a picture, whether it seems overly blue-ish or greenish or the colors are too warm or not warm enough. Calling this "color balance" would have been self-explanatory. Which is presumably why it is not called that.

White balance bracketing means that when I press the shutter button once, the camera takes several pictures, each with a different color balance. The number of pictures and the degree of difference in color balance between them (measured in lovely units called millireds - each one thousandth of a red) are both settable.

The camera also has a feature which brackets exposure, how dark or bright the picture is. With exposure bracketing set, for each time I press the shutter button, the camera takes a settable number of pictures at different exposures.

These are the two main things that go wrong with pictures, either they are under-exposed or over-exposed, or the color is wrong.

A bell went off in my head. It occurred to me that if one could bracket exposure and color balance simultaneously one would have a foolproof camera that would take a perfect picture every time (autofocus is long since a given). It would have to take lots of pictures for every shot, but one of them would be sure to have the right exposure and color.

Since memory chips are now immense - 4, 8, 16, even 32 gigabytes - and relatively cheap, the fact that taking so many pictures would be prodigal of storage memory does not matter.

To my non-surprise the camera won't do both simultaneously.

My camera, when it was new was the middle range of Nikon cameras, way too expensive but not one of their insanely expensive cameras. It seems that some tricks had to be kept in reserve for the insanely expensive cameras or there would be no reason for anyone to buy them. Which means that the ability to take perfect pictures every time was deliberately omitted by the manufacturer.

One is reminded of Intel's Celeron computer processing chips. The Celerons were Intel's bargain chips, almost the same as the standard chips but without the cache memory which speeds up processing. The scandal was that they were the same chips as the standard chip but Intel had deliberately disabled the cache memory. The Celeron was simply a mutilated Pentium.

Apparently my mid-range Nikon camera bears the same relationship to the insanely expensive models. What's Japanese for scumbags?

1 comment:

  1. Nick Danger12:37 AM

    Jack, how did that bell sound? Was it the sound of one clapper, or more than one?
    One problem (among several, including aperture) with your search for the camera which takes perfect pictures each time has to do with shutter speed (chip sensitivity nowadays), and whether you are using a flash or existing light. No matter how sophisticated the camera, it only approximates what you see, and everyone sees a scene or object differently. You may be able to narrow the range of your settings, but if you want to get it "the way you saw it", you need to work the settings yourself. Of course, you could always get a point-and-shoot with an "automatic" setting, but those are too insanely inexpensive.