Photography: Experimenting with ISO- and f-Values

Its experiment time! In my quest to find out the best setting for Lego photography (at least as far as my equipment allows), I set up two scenes which cover most of what I am doing. My special thanks hereby to Leyland Brickston for providing his Airship for the shooting.

The Experiment:

  1. a close-up Minifigure portrait and
  2. a shot of a medium-sized build.

Settings-wise, I took pictures with ISO 80, 100 and 200, each with fully open and fully closed aperture, to test the performance under the most extreme settings my camera is able to do.

The result was a total of six photos per scene. Of course, I adjusted the shutter-speed accordingly, to avoid over/under exposure. This did not work out perfectly well all the time, so I had to do some editing of the colour-balance to get them all to roughly the same level.

All shots were taken with identical equipment (my faithful SONY DSC H400 on a tripod) and lighting setup (50×50 cm light-tent with 2 LED lights) – so under very much identical conditions. The distance between lense and motive was about 1 meter.

 

Results:

When doing portraits, which require a relatively high zoom-level (12.7), ISO 200 with minimal f-value (as in aperture fully open) gives clearly the best results, with nicely balanced colours and the least noise.

High F value increases noise significantly, even at lower ISO settings. Lower ISO settings also seems to shift the colours towards a yellow hue that needs quite some editing to correct:

 

ISO 80, f 8.1

 

ISO 200, f 5.1

 

ISO 80, f 8.1, detail.

 

ISO 200, f 5.1, detail.

I think Minifigure portraits are probably the most brutal way in showing the shortcomings of your camera – just look at all the noise! After we got this behind us, lets have a look at a more pleasant motive to take. Pleasant for the photographer at least:

With the medium-sized build, the differences are less notable, thanks to the higher resolution possible (you don’t have to zoom in as much), but follow the same general trend: as higher the f-value, the more noise is in the picture, regardless of the ISO setting.

 

ISO 80, f 7.8

 

ISO 200, f 4.7

 

The differences become quite apparent when closing in on the details:

ISO 80, f 7.8, detail

 

ISO 200, f 4.7, detail

 

Conclusion:

Portraits appear to be quite sensitive to changes in the camera setup. ISO 200 with the lowest possible F-value seems reasonable and offers the best results (with least artifacts).

For builds, tolerances are higher, thanks to the bigger absolute size of the picture, which helps to “hide” noise. They allow therefore more possibilities in playing with the aperture, without risking the quality of the end result too much. Using a low f-value and ISO is nevertheless more desirable where possible, for its better display of colours and details.

Experienced photographers (I don’t count myself amongst those!) might not be surprised by my results, but I found my little experiment very helpful. Instead of pushing buttons and then maybe being happy with the result, or maybe not, this more systematic approach taught me quite a lot about what I can do with the equipment I have.

There may be some more things I will have to look into, but for now this is good food for thought already.

See you next time!

 

Edit:

Looking through the specs of my camera, I found out that I can get actually much closer with it without losing the focus-point. That happens when you just take someone else’s tutorials for face value without trying things by yourself!

That of course changes things a bit. Especially regarding smaller, Minifigure-sized motives. I did a couple of shots before and they are a clear improvement again. So… the post above isn’t obsolete and the trends I discovered are definitely valid, but there is definitely potential to improve picture quality by just decreasing the distance to the object!

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