Notes on using the photo booth mode in DSLR Remote Pro, PSRemote, Webcam Photobooth and NKRemote

Part 5: Getting the best results out of the camera

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This section discusses some of the issues to do with choosing the type of camera to use and how to get the best out of it. It isn't intended as a definitive guide, but should provide a starting point.

Camera Choice

Our photo booth software supports a wide range of cameras and the choice of which camera is best depends on a number of factors:

1) Live view
Live view is very useful for photo booth operation because it allows the users to see themselves and adjust their positions to make sure everybody in the group is visible. All current Canon DSLRs have live view as do recent Nikon DSLRs (D90, D300s, D300, D5300, D5200, D5100, D5000, D7100, D7000, D700, D800, D800E, D4, D3s, D3, D3X etc.). Live view from Canon DSLRs tends to work slightly better for photo booth operation than Nikon DSLRs: the live view is clearer in poor lighting conditions, has a higher resolution and is re-enabled faster after each shot than with Nikon cameras.
Canon PowerShot cameras also support live view but it is much smaller at 320x240 pixels than the live view you get with a DSLR (typically 800x600 pixels or larger). The live view can be enlarged in the photo booth software to fill more of the screen but may appear pixelated and blurred if enlarged too much.

2) High ISO performance
High ISO performance is only an issue if there isn't much light in the photo booth. DSLRs have much better high ISO performance than compact models like the Canon PowerShot cameras. DSLRs can be used up to ISO 400 with very little loss in image quality and most recent models can produce very acceptable results as high as ISO 1600. PowerShot cameras, on the other hand, do not perform well at higher ISO settings and anything above ISO 200 is probably best avoided.
In good lighting conditions with the camera set to ISO 100 both DSLRs and Canon PowerShot cameras can produce excellent results.

3) Battery life
DSLRs come with rechargeable batteries and these should have enough power to run a photo booth for a few hours. The live view display uses a lot of battery power and may result in the battery being exhausted before the end of your event and so it is essential to have a spare, full charged battery availabe just in case. Alternatively you can buy a mains adaptor for most DSLR models so that you don't have to worry about battery life. The mains adaptors usually cost about the same as a spare battery.
The Canon PowerShot G9 and G10 have rechargeable batteries which should last long enough for most events. The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS takes two AA size batteries and these tend to run down fairly quickly. A mains adaptor is probably essential if you intend to use a Canon PowerShot SX110 IS camera and is also worth considering when using a Canon PowerShot G9 or G10.

4) Lens choice
Canon and Nikon digital SLRs accept interchangeable lenses and generally come with a zoom lens like an 18-55mm zoom (28-80mm 35mm equivalent) which covers wide angle through to medium telephoto. This should be suitable for most photo booths where the wide angle setting will usually be used to allow groups of people to be captured in the confined space of the photo booth. Wider angle lenses are available but these may give unflattering results due to distortion. The lens does not need to be particularly fast as it will generally be set to a medium aperture (e.g. f/8) to give a good depth of field. Unless you plan to produce large prints from individual shots later, the quality of the lens isn't critical because the images on the printed strip are usually not much larger than a postage stamp.
Canon PowerShot cameras have fixed zoom lenses which can't be changed. The Canon PowerShot G10 has a slightly wider angle lens than the Canon PowerShot SX110 IS (28mm vs 35mm 35mm equivalent) which makes it a better choice for photo booth use. You can buy wide angle adaptors for many PowerShot cameras but these can be expensive and may end costing more than buying an entry level DSLR. PowerShot models have power zooms which can be adjusted from the PC whereas with DSLRs the lens can only be zoomed by turning the zoom ring on the lens itself. This may make a PowerShot camera a better choice if you need to regularly adjust the zoom setting and the camera is not easily accessible.

5) Video
Canon PowerShot cameras and recent DSLRs from Canon and Nikon support video capture but only Canon DSLR cameras can capture video when controlled from a PC. The DSLR Remote Pro for Windows v2.1 introduces a video booth mode which can be used with cameras such as the Canon Rebel SL1/EOS 100D Canon Rebel T5i/EOS 700D, Canon Rebel T4i/EOS 650D, Canon Rebel T3i/EOS 600D, Rebel T3/1100D, Rebel T2i/EOS 550D, EOS 60D, EOS 70D, EOS 7D, EOS 6D, EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 5D Mark III

Conclusions: DSLR vs Canon PowerShot
Live view: DSLRs have higher quality live view than Canon PowerShots and Canon DSLRs are slightly better for photo booth work than Nikon DSLRs
ISO performance: DSLRs are better if the lighting is poor otherwise any camera is fine
Battery life: DSLRs and Canon PowerShot G10 have good rechargeable batteries. A spare set of batteries or mains adaptor is desirable
Lens choice: A DSLR or Canon PowerShot G10 is fine, the SX110 IS doesn't have as wide an angle of view. PowerShot cameras have the advantage that the lens can be zoomed remotely from the PC
Price: Canon PowerShot cameras are cheaper than Canon and Nikon DSLRs (but the Canon EOS 1100D/Rebel T3 isn't much more expensive than a PowerShot camera). Current Canon PowerShot cameras can't be controlled from a PC and so you will need to buy a second hand Canon PowerShot SX110 IS, S5 IS, G9 or G10.

The Canon EOS 70D is currently the best camera available If you want to use auto focus in photobooth mode. This because the Canon EOS 70D has Canon's new fast phase detect auto focus in live view. The Canon EOS 70D's continuous face detect + tracking live view AF setting is ideal for both stills and video photobooth use.

The Canon EOS 1100D/Rebel T3 probably offers the best price/performance for stills photobooth use and is capable of producing professional results. If you also want to offer video booth shooting then the Canon EOS 700D/Rebel T5i or Canon EOS 650D/Rebel T4i may be a better choice because they allow the use of an external microphone and support 640x480, 720p and 1080p video resolutions.

Manual Focus vs Auto Focus (Canon DSLRs)

For most cameras (except the Canon EOS 70D) it is better to use manual focus than auto focus. This is because if the camera is set to auto focus and is unable to lock focus it will not take the photo. We recommend using manual focus to avoid this problem.

The simplest way to set the camera to manual focus is to set the AF/MF switch on the lens to the MF position. When setting up the booth you can focus by turning the focus ring on the lens and checking the focus on the live view display on the PC screen.

An alternative method of using manual focus is to set the custom function "C.Fn IV: Operations/Others - Shutter/AE lock button" to "1:AE lock/AF" (please see the camera manual for information on how to set this). This setting has the advantage that focus can still be adjusted remotely from the PC but auto focus won't be used when taking a photo. With this setting the lens can be focused in fullscreen photobooth mode by typing Ctrl+A. For more precise control of focus exit photobooth mode and type Ctrl+L to display the live view window. Then use the <<<, <<, <, >, >>, >> buttons or the mouse wheel to manually adjust the focus.

Canon EOS 70D: Canon have added fast phase detect auto focus in live view to the 70D which means that it is possible to use auto focus with this camera in photobooth mode. For best results set the camera "AF method" to "Face detect + Tracking" and "Continuous AF" to "Enable". This can be setup by pressing the "Menu" button on the camera and scrolling through to the 5th camera settings screen then adjusting the settings.

Currently the Canon EOS 70D is the only model to feature the new fast phase detect auto focus in live view.

Lighting

The simplest setup is to rely on the ambient light and not use any external lighting for the photo booth. This may work in a well-lit venue with constant lighting but for most setups ambient lighting isn't sufficient to get consistent high quality results.
An improvement on using ambient light is to use the camera's built-in flash. This should give better results with more consistent color balance than relying on ambient lighting. However it will tend to give very flat lighting with harsh shadows and may result in red-eye. Using the camera's built-in flash will use more battery power and sufficient time should be allowed for the flash to recharge before taking the next photo in the sequence.
For best results some form external lighting is required and this can be constant lighting from photo floods (e.g. tungsten of fluorescent lights) or flash lighting using studio strobe lighting. You can't use a flash for video booth shooting or if you are using a webcam.
The use of studio strobes is the most flexible approach for a stills photo booth but requires a bit more skill and practice to setup. Please see the notes below for information on how to use studio strobes with different camera models. If possible, it is better to use a PC sync connection rather than a slave unit to trigger the studio strobes. If you use the camera's built-in flash to trigger the main strobe lights using a slave unit you may find that guests taking flash pictures with their own cameras will also trigger the studio strobes.
Important: If you use a hot shoe adaptor to trigger studio strobes you must check that the strobes are suitable for use with digital cameras i.e. they use a low trigger voltage of less than 6V otherwise they may damage your camera. Some hotshoe adaptors isolate the camera from high trigger voltages and can be used with any studio strobes.

Using Nikon DSLRs with studio strobes

Cameras with a PC sync connection (e.g. Nikon D300): Simply connect the PC sync cable from the studio strobe to the PC sync connection on the camera. Then set the camera to auto white balance and the exposure mode to M. Set the shutter speed to 1/200 sec and select a small to medium aperture (e.g. f/11 or f/8) to give good depth of field.
The live view images will appear correctly exposed provided there is sufficient ambient lighting.

Cameras without a PC sync connection (e.g. Nikon D90): Use a hotshoe to PC sync adaptor in the camera's hotshoe and connect the PC sync cable from the studio strobe to the hotshoe PC sync adaptor. Then use the camera same camera settings described above for cameras with PC sync connections.

Using Canon DSLRs with studio strobes

Mid- to high-end camera models (e.g. Canon EOS 40D, 50D, 60D, 70D, 6D, 7D, 5D Mark III, 5D Mark II): First use the camera menus to turn off live view exposure simulation and to disable live view silent shooting (please see the camera manual for details). Then connect the PC sync cable from the studio strobe to the PC sync connection on the camera or use a hotshoe to PC sync adaptor in the camera's hotshoe if the camera does not have a PC sync connection. Next set the camera to auto white balance and the exposure mode to M. Then set the shutter speed to 1/125 sec and select a small to medium aperture (e.g. f/11 or f/8) to give good depth of field. The only disadvantage with using this technique is the live view display may freeze for approximately one second before taking each photo (this is a consequence of disabling the silent shooting mode). The length of time the live view display freezes will depend on the camera model. If this is a problem please use one of the other techniques described below.
The live view images will appear correctly exposed provided there is sufficient ambient lighting.

Rebel series cameras (e.g. Canon Rebel T3, Rebel T3i, Rebel T4i, Rebel T5i): Connect the strobe to the camera using a hotshoe to PC sync adaptor and selecting "external flash mode" in the photobooth settings.
External flash mode allows you to use studio strobes with any Canon EOS camera and without having dark live view images. To use this first set the camera to manual exposure by turning the exposure mode dial on the camera to the "M" position. Then connect the PC sync cord from the studio strobe to the camera's hotshoe using a hotshoe to PC sync adaptor. Set the aperture on the camera to a suitable value e.g. f/8 or f/11 (don't worry about setting the shutter speed as this is set automatically by the software). Next select "External flash mode" in the photo booth settings window and enter full screen photo booth mode. With Rebel series cameras the viewfinder brightness will be adjusted automatically. You can also adjust the brightness of the live view images manually by pressing the cursor up or cursor down keys (this won't affect the exposure used for the actual photos). Cursor up makes the live images brighter and cursor down makes the live view images darker. When each photo is taken the software will automatically set the camera's shutter speed to a suitable value for using flash. The flash exposure can be changed by adjusting the aperture on the camera, by changing the camera's ISO setting or by adjusting the power setting on the studio strobes. Please see FAQ 12 on this page if you have problems with inconsistent flash exposure or black bars appearing on the photos.

Using Canon PowerShot cameras with studio strobes

PowerShot cameras without a hotshoe (e.g. Canon PowerShot SX110 IS): Use the camera's built-in flash to trigger the studio strobes using a slave unit. For best results the exposure mode should be set to Av or M and the white balance set to "Auto". For maximum depth of field the aperture should be set to f/8. If the exposure mode is set to M (manual exposure) the shutter speed should be set to 1/125 sec or higher. With M exposure mode the built-in flash can be turned down to 2 in the main PSRemote window so that it only triggers the studio strobe and doesn't light the subject. Take some test shots and adjust the power setting on the studio strobes to get the correct exposure.
The live view images will appear correctly exposed provided there is sufficient ambient lighting.

PowerShot cameras with a hotshoe (e.g. Canon PowerShot SX5 IS, G9 or G10): Use a hotshoe to PC sync adaptor in the camera's hotshoe and connect the PC sync cable from the studio strobe to the hotshoe PC sync adaptor. Set the camera white balance to auto and the exposure mode to M. Select a shutter speed of 1/125 sec or higher and an aperture of f/8 to maximize the depth of field. Take some test shots and adjust the power setting on the studio strobes to get the correct exposure.
The live view images will appear correctly exposed provided there is sufficient ambient lighting.
Please note that when using a Canon PowerShot G9 or Canon PowerShot G10 the live view display will go dark for a couple of seconds after each shot before appearing correctly exposed again. This can be hidden from users by displaying a preview of the last shot for a few seconds.
Alternatively the built-in flash can be used to trigger the studio strobes using a slave unit as described above.

Note: if the shutter speed is too fast (e.g. 1/4000 sec) the camera may not synchronize properly with the flash. The shutter speed needs to be set so that it is fast enough that the ambient light has negligible effect and all the lighting is provided by the studio strobes. If the shutter speed is too slow you may get strange ghosting effects where the subject is frozen by the main flash but also has some movement due to the long exposure and the ambient lighting. Normally a shutter speed of 1/125 sec or 1/250 sec will be fine.

Camera Settings

There are four basic camera settings which need to be set to get the best results from the camera:

1) White balance
Setting the camera's white balance correctly makes a big difference to the quality and consistency of the colors in the photos e.g. if the photo booth is used at a wedding reception it is vital that colors like the white of the bride's dress is rendered accurately. Relying the camera's auto white balance setting probably isn't enough to get consistent results because the white balance will be affected by the predominant colors in the photo. You should get more consistent results by using one of the camera's preset white balance settings, particularly if you are using external photo flood or strobe lighting. For the best results the camera's custom white balance setting should be used by taking a test shot of a white or neutral gray subject under the photo booth lighting (please refer to your camera manual for details on how to set the custom white balance). Once the custom white balance setting has been stored in the camera the custom white balance should be selected in PSRemote/DSLR Remote Pro for Windows/NKRemote before entering full screen photo booth mode. The only disadvantage in using a preset or custom white balance setting is that the live view images may show a color cast if the color temperature of the ambient lights is different from that of the strobe units. If this is a problem it might be better to use auto white balance.

2) Exposure mode
The simplest option is to set the camera to program exposure mode and let it choose the shutter speed and aperture. This may not produce the best results if the ambient lighting is dim and external strobes are used as the main light source. A better choice may be to select aperture priority exposure so that a smaller aperture can be used to increase the depth of field to ensure the subject is in focus. For complete control you can use manual exposure and set both the shutter speed and aperture. For a DSLR an aperture of f/8 is probably a good compromise as it gives a wide depth of field and the best optical performance from most lenses.

3) Lens focal length and focus
Usually there is limited space available for the photobooth and it is necessary to use the wider angle setting of the zoom lens in order be able to capture groups of people. A 35mm focal length equivalent of between 28mm and 35mm should give good results with reasonable depth of field without excessive distortion. With a DSLR the lens should be set to manual focus and pre-focused to where people are most likely to stand (or slightly closer since the depth of field extends approximately 1/3 closer than the focus and 2/3 farther away). Auto-focus with a DSLR is disabled when shooting with live view and is not normally an issue. However if you are using a DSLR for a photo booth without live view auto-focus should be avoided because if the camera is unable to lock the focus it may not take the picture.
Auto-focus is less of a problem with Canon PowerShot cameras as they have a bigger depth of field (due to the smaller sensor size) and will normally take the picture even if they have difficulty focusing. If necessary you can use the "AF lock" option in PSRemote's main window to pre-focus the lens and lock the focus (manual focus isn't available with PowerShot cameras when controlled from a PC).

4) ISO
The ISO setting controls the sensitivity of the image sensor which can affect the image quality. The higher the ISO setting the more gain is applied to the sensor (effectively making it more sensitive) and the more digital noise there will be in the pictures. Therefore for the best results you should use the lowest ISO setting that is practical for the lighting conditions.
In practice a modern DSLR should have little or no apparent noise for ISO 400 or lower and will still give very good results up to ISO 1600. Canon PowerShot cameras have much smaller sensors and suffer more from noise at higher ISO settings. Ideally PowerShot cameras should be used at ISO 80 or 100.


Glossary

Aperture - the size of the opening in the lens expressed as a fraction of the focal length. A smaller aperture (e.g. f/8) lets in less light than a larger aperture (e.g. f/2.8) but gives a larger depth of field.
Depth of field - the range of subject distances which are in focus.
DSLR - this stands for "digital single lens reflex" camera. This is a camera which allows the user to compose the image by looking through the viewfinder and the lens used for taking the photograph via a mirror. The mirror flips up to expose the imaging sensor when a photograph is taken.
"fast lens" - a lens with a wide maximum aperture e.g. f/2.8 for a zoom lens or f/1.4 for a fixed focal length lens. A wider aperture lets in more light allowing a faster shutter speed to be used in the same lighting conditions than a lens with a smaller aperture.
ISO - The sensitivity setting of the camera's sensor. A higher ISO setting is more sensitive than a lower setting and allows shooting in poorer lighting conditions. Digital noise or grain increases at higher ISO settings. DSLR cameras have larger imaging sensors than compact cameras and this results in less digital noise at higher ISO settings.
red-eye - the effect where people's eyes appear red when taking pictures using flash. This happens when the flash is close to the camera's lens (e.g. when using the camera's built-in flash) and the light bounces off the retina of the subject's eye.
35mm equivalent - The field of view of a lens depends on the focal length of the lens and the size of the imaging sensor or film. Before digital cameras most film cameras used the standard 35mm film size and so digital camera lens zoom ranges are often expressed as the 35mm film equivalent to make it easier to compare different lenses. Digital cameras have different sized sensors with DSLRs tending to have much larger sensors than compact cameras.


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Using photo booth mode in DSLR Remote Pro for Windows, DSLR Remote Pro for Mac, PSRemote, Webcam Photobooth and NKRemote