The SLR Camera Simulator
May 29, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Do SLR cameras confuse you? Then try the SLR Camera Simulator.
posted by Foci for Analysis (47 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:34 AM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hmm, how do you raise the camera arms-length above your head to take a photo of the band, and then bonk me on the head with the lens on the way back down? I'd think any decent simulator would have such a ubiquitous aspect of SLR photography.
posted by griphus at 7:40 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, everyone keep track of how many times you use this, and I'll bonk griphus' head the requisite number of times. It'd be most efficient to do them all at once, or at least in batches - griphus, how's this weekend for you?
posted by echo target at 7:43 AM on May 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

How do you yell at the girl to hold the fuck still so we can get this shit overwith. Oh, now you're gonna cry? Great, go and fucking ruin granny's get well soon card. It's your fucking fault she's going to die sad all because you wouldn't stand the fuck still!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:45 AM on May 29, 2012 [23 favorites]

Do today's digital SLRs really snap a pic as quick as this simulator (and their film-based ancestors)? I ask because even the best digital point-and-shoots I've tried have horrific delays between pushing the button and actually capturing an image. (And don't even get me started on the camera in my wife's iPhone.) So, I was wondering if the SLRs are more responsive.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:01 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

The 10th Regiment of Foot, does your photo studio have gift cards? I want to give some to my neighbors. Also, could you please wear this to entertain the kids?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:04 AM on May 29, 2012

Do today's digital SLRs really snap a pic as quick as this simulator...

oh my jesus i feel old

Old-timey cameras were mechanical. They didn't pause for nothing. You didn't even the button pressed down all the way before you heard a bunch of clicking and whirring. I don't know what those horrific delays are in today's "advanced" camera but no, they didn't exist in even the worst cameras of 20 years ago.

About the sim: So there's no way to take a good picture indoors? Yeah, that sounds about right.
posted by DU at 8:05 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thorzdad, typical SLR shutter lag is around 60ms if you're going from a half-press (focus and metering already done) to full-press. Double that if you're going from unpressed to full-press. It's very fast.
posted by 0xFCAF at 8:07 AM on May 29, 2012

Good DSLRs are much faster than most PnS digital cameras, because they have much nicer, faster, streamlined processors execute the tasks. The AutoFocus feature on PnS cameras are usually the major thing that slow them down.
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:13 AM on May 29, 2012

Do today's digital SLRs really snap a pic as quick as this simulator...

In my experience, dSLRs have been as fast to actuate as film cameras since at least 2005.

You would be amazed at what a modern dSLR is capable of these days.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:15 AM on May 29, 2012

After watching it awhile, that little girl is starting to freak me out. Stand still dammit!
posted by JJ86 at 8:16 AM on May 29, 2012

Thorzdad: You don't have to have a mirror in your camera to get practically instant shutter actuation, by the way. The Olympus OMD EM5 has very little shutter lag, even when using autofocus, in most cases.
posted by syzygy at 8:19 AM on May 29, 2012

SLR camera simulators confuse me. WHAT NOW?
posted by bicyclefish at 8:20 AM on May 29, 2012

I appreciate how patient the little girl is. Also, fantastic simulator; it's very hard to figure out how this stuff works in the field with an actual camera. Even with the instant feedback of digital, on the small screen it's hard to really see the effects of blur and depth of focus.

I keep trying to go the next level down and understand digital photos in terms of actual physics, the amount of light actually available to each sensor pixel and the amount of light that should be emitted/reflected on viewing. And relatedly, how much dynamic range is really available in modern photos. Ie, because JPG is 8 bit, does that mean all my photos have 1:256 dynamic range? Or is it more complicated than that? I've found this article which I've read about three times and don't really get it. I'm content to only understand this for grayscale, no need to complicate it with color.
posted by Nelson at 8:28 AM on May 29, 2012

Most DLSRs use phase detection for autofocus, which is generally faster than the contrast detection that compact cameras use. Phase detection requires a mirror and prisms and other stuff that takes up space, so it's only used in big chunky cameras. Contrast detection is mostly just software, so it works well in tiny cameras, but it's more limited by processor speed.

That said, contrast detection is getting better lately with access to faster chips. A few years down the road there may not be an appreciable difference.
posted by echo target at 8:29 AM on May 29, 2012

Good DSLRs are much faster than most PnS digital cameras

dSLRs have been as fast to actuate as film cameras since at least 2005.

I recently picked up (for free) a working old film camera so I could show the kids how the shutter worked. Even I was amazed at how much faster it was than a digital and I'd seen them before. Granted, it wasn't a point-n-shoot. But unless by "good" you mean "more than several times the cost the film camera would have been, back in the day" they are not faster or even as fast. I can make a sandwich in the time it takes for a normal consumer-level digital camera to eventually notice that I've asked it to do its job and lazily throw something together.
posted by DU at 8:38 AM on May 29, 2012

I just noticed I didn't even answer the question: No, film cameras were not as fast as this simulator. I just tried the simulator again with this in mind. They were faster. Or maybe my browser is just slow.
posted by DU at 8:40 AM on May 29, 2012

I've got a Canon S90, which is on the high end of point-and-shoots (but a couple of years old), and I have to say, it is much more pleasant to use than other pocket-sized cameras. The auto-focus isn't super-fast, but it's much, much faster than your average P&S, which I find infuriating to use.

I would frankly rather not take pictures at all than have to wait a second or more for the stupid thing to focus.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:44 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

This whole "fast shutter" thing is silly at this point. Pro level SLR's have had virtually no shutter delay for quite awhile now. Entry level SLR's for some reason often had a shutter delay but now that's not as common.

I'd say this is fast enough. Yes, it's real.

When using one on burst mode it's really really hard to only take one photo especially if you have never used one.
posted by WickedPissah at 8:45 AM on May 29, 2012

Shutter speed is not the same thing as delay. It doesn't matter if it'll take 1 billion pictures per nanosecond if it takes 14 hours to register my request to do so.
posted by DU at 8:47 AM on May 29, 2012

How fast the image appears on the little screen is a function of the amount of available memory, how fast the camera can write to its storage media, how fast the processor and bus are, and, to some extent, how fast the autofocus and sensor are. It's not, as DU points out, just how fast the click is.

The good news is all these things can be made very fast. For a price. But that price is going down quickly.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:52 AM on May 29, 2012

First: Whatever camera you're using, if you're going from unfocused to button pressed in one movement, you're doing it wrong. AF speed varies between very quick to very slow (mobile phone) but regardless, you always* want to be pre-focused and ready before you take the shot. A lot of people with DSLRs delegate autofocus to a separate button on the back of the camera, but by default a half-press of the shutter release is the universal behaviour.

Any half-decent camera nowadays will, once focused, take the photo the instant you press the button. I certainly haven't used a digital SLR that failed at this.

[*caveats are available to suit all circumstances]
posted by dickasso at 8:54 AM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

On dynamic range: Does this set of graphs make any more sense to you?

Basically, for the reviewed camera with the "HTP" setting enabled, details -5 to +5 stops from the median exposure are mapped onto the jpeg 0..255 luminance values, with the "0 stops" exposure value being mapped onto the luminance value of 120 or so. However, not all stops are equal: for the range -5…-4 EV there are only about 10 jpeg luminance values, while for the range -1EV…0EV there are about 50 luminance values.
posted by jepler at 8:55 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is fun! If you have the time, shooting manual is THE BEST. This is a nice little simulator for that, though I wish it could simulate metering too. That's a really critical part of shooting manually. It's how you get dramatic effects like this, among other tricks.

Of course most people don't have time to fiddle around with settings while the nephew is blowing out the birthday candles so leaving your camera on auto or maybe aperture or shutter priority is much more useful. Manual mode is for composing images, for creating something with a little more intent then just documenting a moment.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:56 AM on May 29, 2012

.The good news is all these things can be made very fast. For a price. But that price is going down quickly.

It's already very low. Go to the flea market, or just ask on Freecycle, and get a film camera.

But for digital cameras it is coming down quickly, probably as a whole new generation of engineers relearns that their forefathers weren't so stupid.
posted by DU at 8:56 AM on May 29, 2012

Oh and if you have a RAW capable camera and something like Lightroom, go ahead and overexpose your images by a stop and a half or so, then use the highlight recovery slider in'll get more data when taking the shot and ultimately, a much more flexible image in post.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:58 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and if you have a RAW capable camera and something like Lightroom, go ahead and overexpose your images by a stop and a half or so, then use the highlight recovery slider in'll get more data when taking the shot and ultimately, a much more flexible image in post.
Be careful with this... It totally depends on the capabilities of the camera/sensor. Sometimes there's a stop or two of extra latitude in the highlights, and sometimes highlights blow pretty much immediately but the shadows can be pulled up really nicely. Or both, or neither. Experiment.

Sometimes setting the 'contrast' to the lowest possible value in-camera helps get the histogram (based on a jpeg thumbnail) to more accurately reflect the underlying raw data.
posted by dickasso at 9:02 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Aha, found the raw numbers that make that graph. The range from -5.06EV to -4.0EV gets about 5.7 luminance values (5.7…11.4), while the range from -1.0EV to 0EV gets 45.6 (73.7…119.3) and the range from 4.0EV to 5.0EV gets 6.6 (248.6-255.2(!?))

The raw numbers were in this json file.
posted by jepler at 9:11 AM on May 29, 2012

[*caveats are available to suit all circumstances]

Everyone remember this so that in the future when I write CAATSAC you know what I mean.
posted by oulipian at 9:11 AM on May 29, 2012

jepler, thanks, that kind of graph is exactly the sort of thing I'm trying to understand. Now for it all to make sense to me I need to better understand what a "stop" is, and what an "EV" is, and how my computer or printer displays the resulting JPG. I imagine gamma curve is going to come in here somewhere too. There's a lot of complex science behind exposures and I'm just trying to understand it. I almost did once, in graduate school in 1998, but I apparently didn't pay close enough attention. Maybe I need a textbook.

One simple question, when you say "luminance value" does that mean exactly each 0-255 pixel value in a JPG? It's a bit weird to express them in floating point. And another simple question; is that -5 to +5 EV roughly standard for all cameras?
posted by Nelson at 9:24 AM on May 29, 2012

DU, don't forget to include focus time. Auto-focus was slow even on film cameras, slower than modern ones.

There is an enormous difference between the pro, high-end "pro-sumer" and $100 point-and-shoots. Cameras also have been getting much faster every year.

The only place 35-mm film cameras still beat dSLRs is time to first photo from off, because of camera boot times. With the camera hot, modern dslrs are as good or better.

It's quite true that cheap p&s can be pieces of shit for speed. Phone cameras are even worse, in my experience. Next time you're at the store however, try a Canon S100 or an LX-5. You might be surprised.
posted by bonehead at 9:28 AM on May 29, 2012

This sim, although nice, neglects the effect of aperture on depth of field. Very important in portraiture, or even in casual snapshots. Or night/low light photography, where a fast prime lens allows reasonable shutter speeds, but with the tradeoff that you have to be very careful about depth of field.
posted by etherist at 9:35 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was actually surprised that it does seem to account for depth of field. It's not incredibly obvious until you take a shot at f-18 or 22 and then another one at f-2.8. The playground is crystal clear at 22, but is blurry at 2.8.
posted by Bonky Moon at 9:38 AM on May 29, 2012

A stop and an EV (exposure value) are the same thing. In absolute terms, one stop is a doubling or halving of the amount of light, depending on whether you're going up or down. In practical terms, it's one click of the aperture ring on an old manual camera, hence the term 'stop'.

It sounds like a lot - twice the light! - but it's actually not very much. You can see the difference in brightness between a correctly exposed shot and one that's a stop underexposed, but it's not worlds apart. A third of a stop is roughly the smallest perceptible difference, unless you're overlaying the two and flipping between them.
posted by echo target at 9:39 AM on May 29, 2012

totally enjoyed this. i use a fancy point-n-shoot that has more manual controls than i know what to do with.
posted by moss free at 9:39 AM on May 29, 2012

This is great. Really does a great job of illustrating the relationship between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. I also like that the girl has a spinning pinwheel, so that while there are several combinations of the three that will result in a properly-exposed picture, some will leave the pinwheel blurred and some will freeze it. Depends on the effect you're going for.
posted by xedrik at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2012

If you have your focus set to something other than the shutter button the response is as near as instant on an SLR. My 5 year old 40D on JPG can pretty much shoot as fast as it can until the card is full, and they just get faster the newer you get.

I still prefer the manual wind on my old Minolta X-700 though. The pictures I get with it are just more... alive?

Oh! Hey there, preview!
posted by tmt at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2012

If you want to shoot more than one person you'd need a peephole camera simulator.
posted by hal9k at 10:15 AM on May 29, 2012

You're right - it does address DOF and aperture.

Handy and free!
posted by etherist at 10:21 AM on May 29, 2012

To make it even more realistic they could add options for flash, placement of reflectors, people and animals randomly getting into the shot, light changing as the sun passes over intermittent cloud cover, the girl blinking every 2-4 seconds. And, if you checked "tripod" the UI could lock up for 20 seconds then the distance slider would become a set of + and - buttons to simulate the extra hassle. Faster aperture, DOF preview and control over focus would be more sensible additions (because then you can shoot in candlelight, but you need to ensure you've got the eyes and the nose in focus.)
posted by dickasso at 10:26 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most of what people think is shutter delay in entry-level SLRs is really a focusing delay. Takes a split second for the focus motors to turn, if you're already focused or on manual it's instantaneous.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:30 AM on May 29, 2012

I think that the reason the numbers in that table are not integers is because they represent the average of many pixels all of which are over the same "slice" in the exposure chart. However, it's still puzzling how there could be values above 255.0, as seen in the top sample.

If the whole range of values is -5EV…5EV, that's 10EV, "10 stops" or 1:2^10 or 1:1024 brightness between the darkest values (the ones that get a jpeg luminance value of 5) and the brightest values (the ones that get a jpeg luminance of 255).

But because there are fewer jpeg luminance values for the stop from -5EV to -4EV than the stop from -1EV to 0EV, if you use a photo editing program and adjust the curves so as to move -5EV up to the middle luminance values, it'll look like crap (posterized or noisy, depending on the camera)
posted by jepler at 12:31 PM on May 29, 2012

Part one of my final exam in photography class, 15 minutes timed.

1- Take battery out of camera so that exposimeter stops working.
2- Run into dark room.
3- Load about a foot of ISO 100 film into an empty canister.
4- Install film canister in camera.
5- Go outside, it is a sunny day, close to noon, early summer.
6- Take a few pictures of some stuff arranged under a tree shade, use sunlit sidewalk as a reference for exposure.
7- Run back into dark room.
8- Remove film from camera, load film into spiral reel, put reel into development tank.
9- Forget to put lid on development tank before running out of the dark room.
10- Bang head on tree.
11- Teacher laughs and gives you a second chance.

I have never forgotten the "Sunny 16" rule: On a sunny day, use f/16 aperture, shutter speed to reciprocal of ISO speed.

For my exam, that was a baseline of f/16, ISO 100, 1/125s speed (1/125 is the closest to 1/100 on my camera). Open 2 steps to compensate for the difference between the sunlit sidewalk and the tree shade gives f/8. I could have gone with f/16 and 1/30s, but depth of field was less important than possible motion blur in this case.

I don't miss the days of film cameras.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 5:55 PM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Jumping in late here, but my DSLR from 2004 (wow) is virtually indistinguishable from a film SLR when in being used in full-manual mode (no AF, no metering).

No delay on the shutter -- even for the first shot. The shutter 'clunk' is less satisfying though. I've also had some automatic film SLRs that were SLOOOOW, and I suspect that there are some folks in here who are wearing rose-tinted polarizing filters.

My understanding is that the live preview mode on compact point-and-shoot cameras contributes to most of the delay, as the camera needs to reset (and clear any stray charges from) the sensor before capturing the actual shot. The fact that the camera insists on refocusing the shot (despite the fact it continuously autofocuses while in preview mode) only adds to the delay, and is a pesky human factors quirk that camera manufacturers have only recently decided to address. It's annoying to many people (including knowledgable photographers such as myself) that hitting the shutter doesn't instantly capture the contents of the live preview screen.

For the most part, the technology's advanced to the point where modern point & shoot cameras are pretty quick, but still not quite up to SLR standards. Apparently, it's a good thing that the mirror keeps the sensor in the dark until the shot is taken.

And, yeah. Film's cool, has still-unmatched dynamic range, offers a bit of nostalgia and forces you to be a more thoughtful photographer. It's also dead/dying for a damn good reason, and I'm only shedding a limited number of tears for its demise. Simply put, I can't afford to be a film photographer.
posted by schmod at 9:44 PM on May 29, 2012

I like the part where I got to shove in front of people because I have a camera with a zoom lens.

posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:44 AM on May 30, 2012

schmod: For the most part, the technology's advanced to the point where modern point & shoot cameras are pretty quick, but still not quite up to SLR standards. Apparently, it's a good thing that the mirror keeps the sensor in the dark until the shot is taken.

You oughtta take a look at some of the newer mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras like the Olympus OM-D. It has live view and a 29ms shutter lag - less than 3/4 that of the Nikon D800's 42ms, and the D800 is Nikon's most recent, top-of-the-line pro DSLR. The Olympus has blazing fast autofocus and a 9 frame per second burst speed when shooting RAW + JPEG, as well.

Interesting stuff happening in the world of mirrorless cameras. I picked up an OM-D after it was recommended in a question I asked over at AskMe, and I'm loving it so far.
posted by syzygy at 4:46 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is pretty great. Maybe I'm too far removed from being a camera novice, but I don't know why manually setting an exposure is so mystifying to people. Make the little meter arrow point at the middle, and if it doesn't, play around with the settings until it does. Adjust one setting one way, and you've got to adjust another setting the other way to return to the same exposure. Aperture affects how blurry the background will be, and shutter speed affects how blurry a moving object will be.

Now, I'd love to have a lighting simulator, and searching now I just found this.

dSLRs have been as fast to actuate as film cameras since at least 2005.

In 2006, the paper I worked for had us use Nikon d2h cameras, which I think is from 2001 or so, and it had no real lag. There was a lot to complain about with that camera (anything over ISO 400 was pretty ugly) but I shot everything from murder scenes at night to pro basketball and baseball with it, and it did a serviceable job. Of course, move your autofocus to a different button than the shutter or focus manually, but I can't fathom doing anything different.

The camera I use now, the 5D Mark III is a pretty amazing camera to use. Not only is it lighting fast and difficult to fill up the buffer (compared with the original 5D, for instance), but its silent mode is quieter than a Leica M6 shutter. A friend recorded a comparison of the shutters here. And start up time is just about instantaneous if you turn off the automatic sensor cleaning function. Really, though, I rarely put the camera in the "off" position, and instead rely on the automatic shutoff after a couple of minutes. Pushing the shutter button makes it wake up instantaneously.

The one thing that some very old (or Leica) film cameras can do that digitals can't, is operate without batteries. My old F3 could at least shoot at 1/60 without a battery and older models (and many of the Leica rangefinders) can do all shutter speeds without a battery. It's a pretty rare need, but I've run into problems shooting in extremely cold environments. Best thing to do is just keep a few extra batteries inside your jacket to keep them warm and switch the batteries out when they get cold. But in really cold environments, you've also got to worry about film breaking.

And I knew somebody who did surf and skate photography in the 70s and 80s, using motor drives and 100- or 50-foot rolls of film. Apparently every so often you'd have to open up the camera and dump out little bits of film sprockets cut off by the film moving so fast through the camera. No need to do that with modern digital motor drives. Shoot 6 or more frames a second until your card is full (though you might run into camera buffer issues after loooong continuous bursts (probably a longer burst than you can get with a normal roll of film, but shorter than using the 50/100-foot roll)).
posted by msbrauer at 6:55 AM on May 30, 2012

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