Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Ultimate Selfy-Camera for Street Photography

The Samsung NX mini is known and advertised as the ultimate camera for taking selfies. It comes with either a 9mm f/3.5 prime lens or a 9mm to 27mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 zoom lens. At some stages, I believe, there was a double lens kit available.
In order to be complete, the NXmini mount also sports a 17mm f/1.8 portrait lens, which, however, is hard to get and pretty expensive.

In terms of specifications, the NX mini got a 1 inch (13.2mm x 8.8mm; crop factor 2.7),  20 Mpix, BSI CMOS sensor, which delivers pretty noisy images, at least to my taste. The camera also is provided with a 180 degrees tilt-up LCD screen, which is touch sensitive. WiFi is build into the camera. Of course, this higher end camera can record in RAW.

Enough of the specs! What makes me actually using this camera for street photography? Despite the fact that I own a Ricoh GR.

Super Silent!
Not sure how this is put together technically, however, it seems that there are shutters in the NX mini lenses. I doubt that those are leaf shutters, since the flash sync speed is limited to 1s/200. Anyway, those shutters are really silent!

9mm Pancake Lens
This thing is a must have! This lens turns the NX mini into a camera that you actually will carry in your pocket all the time. The lens will only add 12.5mm to the camera during transport. No manipulation required when turning the camera on, contrary to the zoom lens, which as to be manually extended. The 9mm wide angle view of 83.4 degrees, which is equivalent to 24.3mm on 135 film, just like the perfect street lens.
A very peculiar feature of this lens is that is does not come with a lens cap for the front element. Instead, the front element of this lens is protected by a sheet of tempered glass. Honestly, I do hate this fact... and at the same time, I love it!
On the negative: the protective glass introduces a tremendous amount of lens flair.
On the positive: no moving parts...
On the neutral: many Fuji X100 (S/T) shooters, including myself, put a "protective" UV-filter in front of the first element...

Tilt-up Screen
This is a great feature, since the screen can act as a waist-level view-finder, just like in the days of the TLRs. You can take hip-shots which are actually framed, like in the good old days. Right, more modern cameras have that feature, however, this camera got the hinge the very top, allowing it to be carried by grabbing the screen from below, in particular when touch sensitivity is enabled (see next section).

Touch Sensitive Screen
Samsung integrated a "touch shutter" mode, which defines the AF-area and releases the shutter when focus is established. This way, you can safely open the lens up wide, since it is your finger to determine the focus spot, rather than the camera's processor.
Hold the camera by its screen (see above) with one hand and use the other hand to fire the touch shutter.

Full Manual Control
Despite the many auto and selfy modes this camera supports, there are some very interesting features, concerning street photography.
You can adjust the following parameters manually which no risk to accidentally change those:
  • shutter speed
  • aperture
  • ISO
  • focus distance (when using manual focus)

Yep, that is a good thing. The camera can be set to record the RAW detector data and also process a JPEG image which various filters (Samsung calls those "Picture Wizard"). The live view on the LCD will show you the effect of the filter chosen, however, when a picture is taken the original sensor data is recorded alongside the processed image.
Here a tip for you, in particular when you do not (yet) see in B&W: Set the camera to "Classic" (which the B&W mode). Now you can judge how your scene will look like when processed into B&W.

Here are my recommendations for street photography with the ultimate selfy camera.

1. General Common Settings
  • picture wizard: classic (see above)
  • set ISO to auto (I loved if there was auto-film!)
  • set ISO expansion to on (allows for ISO 100 rather than ISO 160)
  • set auto ISO range to 3200 (beyond that noise become terrible)
  • minimum shutter speed 1s/125 (freeze motion)
  • metering: multi (obviously we are snapping)
  • dial in your preferred aperture (f/11 brings in some diffraction)
  • exposure compensation -1 stop (avoid blown out brights)
  • display off: 30 sec (get it dim asap)
  • auto power off: 30 min (keep it on as long as possible)
  • sound: off (obvious)
  • AF lamp: off (obvious)
  • quick view: off (who's chimping?!)

2. Waist-Level Finder Settings
  • enable touch
  • enable touch-shutter
  • focus mode: AF single
With this settings you will be able to shoot with shallow depth of field. However, you need to be visually connected to your camera, which bystanders might notice. On the positive, this will work even when using the zoom lens.

3. Quick Snap Mode Settings
  • focus mode: MF
  • preset focus to "2 dots' width" from infinity (*)
  • set the aperture to f/8
As Weegee said "f/8 and be there". With the camera set up like this, you will be able to snap shots without worrying about the focus. Shots in this mode can be taken in total secrecy due to the very silent shutter. There wont be any missed focus, due to the deep depth of field. Obviously there is not focus hunting.
Note: touch shutter wont work with manual focus!

Have a look:
Wow - Sevillanas! (Samsung NX mini, 9mm pancake @ f/11)
Obviously f/11 was too far stopped down, diffraction is quite obvious in that shot. The hyper focal distance in this shot was set to about 1.5m. Further, I had to crop a good portion of the image, my lens was just too wide angle for that distance!

As a side remark, I danced Sevillanas myself for some years. The sudden exposure to the dance made me thinking of picking it up again.

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