990 usage tips

I am continuing to update this as I use the camera.

 This page was last updated on January 24, 2001

Minimizing noise

There is no question that the smaller sensors on the current crop of 3 Mpixel CCDs are more noisy than the previous 2.1 Mpixel sensors. There are several things that you can do to minimize noise on the 990.

1) Stay at ISO 100 when you can. The camera is much less noisy there. Only use ISO 400 if you have to to get a shot, even in good light. Avoid the AUTO setting, that can jack your ISO up to 400 without telling you. Be aware that if you use A-Rec, that it might jack your ISO up to 400 in lower light.

2) Consider using reduced sharpening (low). A lot of the noise on uniform subjects like the Blue sky seems to be related to the sharpening routine picking up on small variations. Try this experiment, take a shot of the sky at the various sharpening levels and you will see what I mcan. While I find that "no" sharpening just too soft, the Low setting is a pretty good compromise between sharpening and noise. It all depends on what you prefer. Take some test shots and see how it looks to you.

 

Speed up your 990

Unlike the previous Nikon cameras, the 990 does appear to benefit from faster flash cards, the fastest that I tested trimmed over 2 seconds from the Fine mode cycle time, about 30% of the total time. If you shoot TIFF, the time savings is even larger. See the flash card timings page for details.

Stay away from the smallest apertures if you can

The 990 is less sharp at f/11, probably due to diffraction (See the 990 vs. 950 page). You should avoid the smallest apertures if you can. If you are in P mode, you can spin the wheel to bias the camera towards higher shutter speeds instead. The effect is small, even at the worst the camera still resolves more than the CP950 did. The camera usually only uses this small aperture in very bright light.

For fast shooting, set the camera to "Preview Only"

It took me three days of using the camera to realize this. What this does is eliminate the short time after you take a shot during which you can delete it or pause. This allows you to take another shot almost immediately. You do loose the delete immediately function, and the camera is limited by the small buffer to only two shots in Fine mode.

The "Preview only" function is hidden away in the menu system, it took me a while to find it. To set it, In M-Rec, go to the "setup" menu, then "monitor options", then "Display mode", then now you can pick "Preview only".

 

Consider avoiding the "AUTO" settings

Why?

* Auto ISO will boost the ISO to 400, giving you noisy shots when you don't expect it. Use 100 or maybe 200 if you can. You can use 400 in bright light.

* Auto contrast/adjust will give you Red or Magenta skin tones under some conditions. This appears in the shadowed areas of skin. Auto may also decide that your shot needs contrast enhancement without asking you, giving you weird results or a color cast. This is especially true in low light, or non-daylight shots, and shots with just a few bright areas or large areas of uniform brightness. Just leave this off and fix your shots up later if you need to. This has improved in firmware 1.1 though.

* Auto Sharpening is the least dangerous, but I have had it oversharpen shots for my taste. Too much sharpening looks like a halo around objects, a dark halo around bright objects, a bright halo around dark objects. I use normal or low sharpening. Too much sharpening also brings out the noise in a shot by trying to "sharpen" little variations caused by noise; take a picture of the blue sky on each of the sharpening levels to prove it to yourself. This may be a matter of taste for some people.

Avoid the three combinations that will result in color "fringing" (chromatic aberration) when you can.

All zoom lenses can show chromatic aberration at some point, the 990 is not unique. You may have seen the color fringing on some of your shots. You can minimize the problem in your shots by just being aware of the conditions that cause it. They are...

1) Zoom set near the widest angle.

2) Aperture wide open

3) High contrast subject.

If you have all three of these conditions, you might have "color fringing" along the bright edges.

Comments:

1) The effect is worst at wide angle, and almost non existant at telephoto. If you are in a situation where you think that there might be a problem (dead tree against the bright sky, that sort of thing), try to zoom in just a little. Even a little bit of zoom in will help reduce the effect quite a bit.

2) The effect is also worst at full open aperture. If you can do anything to stop down the lens (higher ISO, slower shutter) that will also help quite a bit. With a little zooming in, and a little stopping down, you will reduce the effect. Again, in the dead tree situation, if you are metering the tree with the spot meter, the camera might open up the lens even though the sky is bright. In that case, I would use the flexable priority feature to dial up smaller apertures and a longer exposure.

3) Well, don't shoot that! Of course that is dumb, you want to take a picture, but if the subject is high contrast there might be a problem. THE BIG TIP OFF IS IF YOU NEED TO USE SPOT METERING. If you have to use spot metering to get a good exposure, you might be in a situation where you could see the chromatic aberration effect. If so, consider 1) and 2) above, and try to minimize it with the zoom and the aperture.

Low light white balance

On low light shots, (and I'm talking about shots that might require an exposure of a second or more), the camera might have a problem with white balance. Apparently the way that white balance works is that the camera takes the shot first, then figures out a white balance setting by examining the shot (see proof below). The camera can have a problem in situations where the final exposure is very underexposed so that there is not much information for it to go on (for example, a shot of a parking lot lit by sodium vapor lamps at night). The usual problem that I get is an overall red or orange cast. In those situations, use one of the manual white balance settings.

The proof that the camera does white balance AFTER the shot is the following. Take a 1 second shot of a scene lit by a street light. Take an 8 second shot of the same scene. The 1 second shot may have a white balance problem, but the 8 second more exposed shot will not. The camera has more information to go on on the better exposed 8 second shot; in the case of the 1 second shot there was just not enough light; if it looked before the shot, the shots would be identical.

Action shots with the 990

The 990 is one of the fastest responding "prosumer" digital cameras on the market, but the shutter action is still slower than a real 35mm camera or a pro digital camera like the Nikon D1.  If you want to take shots of moving kids, sports, race cars, you will have to make some effort to get the shots that you want. Here are some tips to help you. They all boil down to keeping the shutter speed high, and keeping the shutter lag (time between pressing the release and when the shot is taken) low.

* Keep the shutter speed up at all costs. Since things are moving, you want the fastest shutter speed that you can get.  Keeping the shutter speed high is all a matter of having enough light, or doing the most with what you do have. If you are in M-Rec P mode, use the flex programming feature by spinning the dial to bias the camera towards higher shutter speeds. This is an excellent way to do this. The other alternative is to use aperture priority, and force the aperture wide open all the time; that way you will get the fastest shutter speed possible all the time. You will need at LEAST 1/125 or better yet 1/250 for sports shots.

* Boost the ISO as high as you can stand to get higher shutter speeds. Consider using at least 200 for your shots, and even think about 400; a grainy sharp shot is not as bad as a blurry smooth shot.

* Consider zooming out a little bit to get a lower f-stop and faster shutter speeds. No sense using full zoom if it will be blurry.

* Track the moving object with the camera. This can give the "blurry background" effect if you do it right, but can compensate for slow shutter speeds.

* Use the optical viewfinder instead of the LCD monitor when you can. This is because there is a very slight delay between reality and what you see on the monitor (try waving you hand in front of the lens to see this for yourself). Added to the already slow shutter speed, this means that something might have already happened by the time you see it on the LCD monitor.

* Use spot metering instead of matrix for most subjects. This is because the subjects that you might be taking are often brighter than the background (soccer players on a field, for example) and you might as well meter them for faster shutter speeds and have the background slightly underexposed.

* Reduce shutter lag by either pre-focusing by half pressing, and/or using manual focus. This works well for many situations (runners on a track, soccer players on a field), and the high depth of field of the short focal lenght 990 will cover any focusing mistakes. This will not work for close range shots of running kids, but you can try it.

* If you can, use a flash. Nothing freezes the action like a flash. An external flash is best. The 990 can sync at 1/1000 with a flash, so set the shutter speed high (shutter priority) if the light from the flash will be bright enough to be most of the exposure, the fast shutter speed will prevent the ghosting effect that you would see with a longer exposure.

* Shoot at a resolution lower than Fine. That is because the shots will not be perfectly sharp due to motion anyway, and you want to get the shortest shot to shot time and the most buffered shots.

* Take LOTS and LOTS of pictures! Just keep the best ones.

 

Trick the camera into giving you wider angle

This is a very unusual 990 tidbit, and I'm not sure where to put it, so I'm putting it here on the tips page.

If you are shooting normally, and you zoom out to wide angle, the camera will take shots at 8.2mm focal length. If you set the fisheye1 lens, the camera will zoom out to 7.7mm! The 7.7mm setting is only available with the fisheye1 setting, and the focus is fixed at infinity, so this can't be used for everything. It is slightly wider angle than the normal wide angle setting. This may be why the lens can be advertised as a 3X zoom when it is not quite 3X over the normal range. I have no idea why this is done... does it vignette slightly at that setting, and this would not be noticed with the fisheye lens on? I don't notice any vignetting on my camera. Maybe the focus mechanism can't focus over the whole range at that setting so that only infinity focus is available, so that might be why it isn't normally available? I have no idea. It is slightly wider though, and could be useful.

Note that Danny Lauring reports that this does not work on the 950.

Normal wide

Fisheye 1 setting

WC-E24 wide angle adapter used for both shots

Flash white balance with the CP990.

Good or Bad, the CP990 does appear to select flash white balance whenever the internal flash is used.  The 950 did not do this, it always used auto white balance unless you overrode it. This is good, and it also can be bad, but it is probably better for beginners than what the 950 did.

On the CP990...

* The flash white balance is used whenever the internal flash is used.
* This includes auto flash and fill flash modes.
* When the internal flash is turned off, and you are using an external flash, the flash white balance is NOT used, you have to set it yourself.

The situations where the flash white balance could be a problem for both cameras are...

* For the 950, when the light from the flash will be the primary illumination, if you don't set flash white balance, you can get greenish shots. This is not a problem with the 990.

* For the 990, when there is mixed light, such as fill flash operation outside, you have to override the flash white balance that the camera selects. For example when using fill flash to take pictures of people in sunlight, you should set sunny "Fine" white balance. This is not a problem with the 950.

* For the 990, with the internal flash disabled and an external flash attached, you have to set flash white balance when you need it. This is not the case when the internal flash is active too.

The menu selection for white balance on the 990 continues to show "A"utomatic when it does this, I guess that this is considered automatic operation. You can see that picking when the camera should use flash white balance is a compromise, and under some lighting both cameras can make the wrong choice for you.
 

Don't use Manual AF area selection mode in low light.

See the 990 low light focusing section for details.

Follow these tips to avoid blurry shots

* Be sure that the green light is not flashing fast before you take the shot.

 The 990 will still allow you to take a picture even if the camera has not focused. It indicates this by flashing the green light by the viewfinder fast. (Don't confuse this with slow flashing due to being in the 3:2 mode). If you keep getting blurry shots, consider turning the LCD off. With the LCD off, the camera will not allow you to take a shot unless it has focused.

* Beware of these camera motions that can ruin your shot.

1) The old rule of thumb is don't try to hand hold at shutter speeds slower than 1/focal length. So, for example, at full telephoto, about 1/125 second would be the slowest. This is just a guideline, and assumes that you are holding very still, and your subject isn't moving.

2) Beware of camera rotation. Rotational motions are far more likely to blur your shots that side to side motions. This can occur when you stab the shutter very fast. Even a 1 degree rotation of the camera around the center of the field during the exposure would result in a 18 pixel blur in your shot, if I did my math right.  If nothing in your picture is in focus, suspect camera motion or rotation.

3) A VERY common problem is moving the camera, even just a couple inches, after you have locked the focus by half pressing. This is especially a problem in low light where the lens is open all the way, and the subject is close, causing short depth of field. In macro mode, the depth of field might only be a few millimeters! A good example of this is taking a portrait at say about 1 meter distance. You may focus on the persons nose, then subconsciously move the camera closer for better framing after half pressing to pre-focus, and end up with the focal plane passing through their ears.