Shot by QooCam, ‘A Glimpse of Hokkaido‘ is a beautiful collection of 360 photos by Yuqing Guo, 2018 the EPSON Panoaward VR/360 Silver Winner. Taking full advantage of QooCam’s DNG8 feature (automatically capture 8 DNG shots in a burst) and Raw+ software (merge multiple DNG shots into a single denoised 16-bit DNG file), Yuqing is pushing the limite of QooCam to get highest quality panoramas. In the following interview, he shares his insights and hopes to inspire more users to embrace DNG8 and Raw+, thus unleashing the REAL POTENTIAL of photo raw data on the tiny little photo sensor.

Watch the full length video here:

 

Q1: Please tell us why you choose QooCam as the main camera to capture panorama during travelling?

 

Giant Battery, DNG8 mode, and Time Lapse DNG Mode are my favorite features of QooCam. I used to have M43 or DLSR for my pano shooting for professional quality although shooting at a lower efficiency. But you know, I need to enjoy life and travel light. In some special situations, you could only shoot with tiny cameras like QooCam, and more importantly, its DNG8 mode can gives you the highest photo quality and the highest post-processing efficiency. QooCam’s 3-hour battery life allows you to do worry-free shooting and CONSTANTLY get high quality DNG photos.

(click the photo above and view in 360°)

I know some of you might doubt whether the 4320*2160 pixels are enough for panorama. But honestly speaking, pixels are not everything in photography, you should also consider the REAL POTENTIAL of the raw data and final image quality. DNG8 will unleash the REAL POTENTIAL of the photo raw data on the tiny little photo sensor.

For now, DNG8 mode only support up to 1s exposure time (v63 firmware), while in time lapse DNG mode you could shoot up to 60s exposure time per shot, but no matter which mode you choose, you can always stack eight DNG photos in RAW+ to increase the image quality dramatically.

 

Q2: People are amazed by your QooCam photos with great details and excellent dynamic range. How do you get the best image quality?

 

Honestly speaking, we are quite used to enjoy DLSR photos that are rich in detail and excellent in dynamic range based on an APS sensor. But things become a little tricky on point-and-shoot VR camera. To get THAT much detail and dynamic range, you have to push the limit of camera sensor:

Step 1: Use app to plan your shots to get the correct exposure. You gotta be sure that the exposure is EMOTIONALLY right and will help make your visual expression better.

Step 2: Keep the camera STABLE with selfie stick and mini tripod. Slower shutter speeds and camera shake lead to blurred images, so I will always recommend using tripod if you select 1/30s or slower shutter speed to shot low-light scenes. For exposure time faster than 1/30s, maybe you can shoot hand held but a crisp shot is not guaranteed.

Step3: Hide yourself somewhere for better immersion. WiFi or Bluetooth is the best friend to remotely control QooCam.

Step 4: Shoot JPG first to double check everything is RIGHT, especially in low light. Since if you shoot in DNG, the real-time preview on the app fails to tell you much details.

Step 5: Switch to DNG8 mode. With DNG8’s burst capturing instantaneously, you will get at least a few panoramas that are perfectly sharp. Remember to keep your camera stable until the record button on the APP is activated again. If you need exposure time over 1s and still want to utilize DNG8 workflow, switch to DNG time lapse mode and take at least eight shots.

(click the photo above and view in 360°)

Step 6: Shoot extra exposure shots if needed. In some high contrast scene, you really need at least two sets of DNG8 shots to capture the full dynamic range. If so, shot on basis of highlight or shadow of a scene to keep the most details. If not, just skip step 6 and go straight to step 7.

Step 7: Don’t stop, shoot more. If you have done step 1 – 6, the quality of the raw photo should be perfect. But who knows, just keep thinking and try to find better shooting spots and shoot more. Practice makes perfect.

 

Q3: What’s your DNG8 workflow? Take Telephone Booth photo as an example, what’s your shooting condition, and how you plan (e.g. camera position), shoot (e.g. camera settings including ISO, exposure time, and so on) and finish the post-production work (e.g. Raw+, PS)?

 

I found a telephone booth in Sapporo Street at around 7 pm on my way to the shopping mall. It has clean glass walls with beautiful refection, inside you can see the skyscrapers nearby with enchanting neon light. Suddenly, a good idea hit me and I put QooCam inside to take a photo. For tiny 360 cameras like QooCam, shooting in tight space can help you get amazing shots.

(click the photo above and view in 360°)

One of the simplest tricks for creating an immersive 360 shot is to make sure the photo has a foreground and a background. By having some elements close to the camera, and others far away, we will create a better sense of depth than if all of the elements are on the same plane. That is the reason why I chose to shoot inside the telephone booth. There are tens of points of interest in every direction, which add excitements to a photo. That is the magic of panoramic photography.

As the dynamic range is way too wide to be captured by a single image (as you can see the pics below), I decided to take the advantage of both HDR and DNG8 by taking two set of DNG8 shots with different exposure value. First one is f2.2 ISO100 0.5s, the second one is f2.2 ISO 100 1/30s which is -4.0EV compared to the first one.

DNG8 Post-production Workflow

Then, import these two sets of DNG8 into KanDao Raw+. For me, it is really a magical tool using computational photography tech to turn a set of RAW photos captured in burst mode into a single denoised 16-bit DNG file (KDRaw), with dramatically better SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) and higher dynamic range. Here are two hints that I want to share:

1. Shoot 16 dng files with the same settings if possible to get the highest quality KDraw DNG.  

2. The first image in the import list serves as a reference photo for the Raw+ auto-alignment, thus you should choose a perfectly sharp shot and place it first in the list.

Compare sample before and after Raw+

After you get the best-possible raw files from Raw+, I then choose Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to do the fine tuning including white balance correction, tint, exposure adjustments and so on, then export into 16-bit tiff files. In this case, there’re two 16-bit tiff files with different exposure, so the next step is to fuse them together to get HDR. If you want to fuse manually, I highly recommend Tony Kuyper’s TKActions panel (Sean Bagshaw also have excellent video tutorial on it) in which you can perform pixel level fusion with the help of luminosity mask tools. If you would like to fuse automatically, you should refer to traditional HDR work flow, for example, Adobe Photoshop, Photomatix and Aurora HDR 2019 (reinvented with HDR master Trey Ratcilff) are great tools. Remember NOT to click auto alignment when importing tiff files to this software.

Once we’ve done the fine tuning, export in JPG files with Pre-fix file name of “Q360” e.g. “Q360_Telephone_Booth.jpg”, as QooCam Studio, the stitching software will recognize it by the name.

After-tuning fisheye image

When stitching, my output choice in QooCam Studio is PNG format (I wish Kandao could add jpeg or tiff format in future updates to ensure the most photo quality) and 4320*4320 instead of 4320*2160, because later I’ll use bicubic algorithm in Photoshop to resize the image to 4320*2160 for sharper image without any final retouch. Then by tuning on the curves, contrast and making even more precise retouching with the help of masking and non-destructive workflow in Photoshop, you’ll get the emotionally right exposure and perfect color then export in final jpg.

Before sharing to social media, you can use “Exif Fixer” to inject the 360-degree metadata into the image, to ensure Facebook and other 360° player recognize it as a 360 footage. 

 

Q4: Unlike traditional photography, DNG8 is a new way of photo capturing which can shoot fast burst of 8 DNG raw files. How do you like DNG8? When do you shoot in this mode?

 

I have to say that DNG8 workflow really fascinates me a lot. Is it a new way of photo capturing? I do not know. But among all the point-and-shoot VR cameras, QooCam might be the first one that enables its users to shoot burst DNG shots on a single tap and provides new possibilities with KanDao Raw+. Once combine DNG8 mode with Raw+, you really get the most of your camera sensor and are ready the unleash the hidden power of computational photography.

More importantly, there is a hidden “exposing – caching – saving” pipeline mechanism underline DNG8 mode which will definitely push DNG8 mode into Smart Burst mode in the future! Now you could only set one exposure when shooting a set of DNG8, while in the era of Smart Burst you are able to shoot not only in burst but also with separated exposure settings which will help me to capture more Decisive Moments in an immersive style on a single tap automatically!  

 

Q5: DNG8 and Bracket Exposure can both be used to do HDR, any difference between them? How do you choose?

 

As Matt Kloskowski said, “HDR is a tool which is so powerful that is easily get powerfully abused”.

If the dynamic range of a scene can be all captured by the camera sensor, a single shot is enough. However, if the dynamic range exceeds our camera sensor, we usually apply AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) which shoot in burst while changing each exposure value from -3EV to +3EV (it depends on what camera you use).

While with QooCam, there is no bracket exposure, but we could manually exposure and calculate the optimized exposure value for our shot. For example, I usually take two sets of DNG8 separately with two exposure value in time lapse modeThe truth behind my shots is to capture the whole dynamic range with the least number of DNG8 shots.

 

Q6: Take this Penguins Walking as an example, are there any differences between shooting landscapes and animals?

 

(click the photo above and view in 360°)

To capture stunning landscapes, you have to wait or pray for good luck. The right moment, light, weather and the shooting spot are all important. And once I were there and got fully prepared, I could shoot slowly and steady.

Shooting animals is really different. I need to shoot really close, fast and sometimes even blindly, that’s the scenario where DNG8 shines. Take Penguins Walking photo for example, I placed the camera at the height of Penguins so that when viewed in VR headset, you feel like a Penguin yourself. With KanDao Raw+’s breakthrough automatic alignment, though the Penguins are moving all the time, you can still be worry-free about the movements by using burst shots, and save more time nailing those once-in-a-lifetime shots. What if you cannot get even closer? Use a selfie stick horizontally and place the camera to the spots that are impossible for us to get.

 

Q7: Compared with DSLR, what’s your shooting technique with QooCam?

 

Most shooting technique applies to all the cameras but small cameras like QooCam really makes shooting a lot easier. The excellent panographer Ayrton Camargo said, “It’s not WHAT you shoot. It’s the WAY you shoot.” That is the TRUTH in panoramic photography I have learned so much from his “Ayrton Style”. Here I will show you some of my behind the scene photos. Always remember that shooting on a tripod is the way to go.

Q8: What’s your favorite QooCam photo during this travelling and why?

 

It is the one called Ninguru Terrace I shoot in Furano-shi, Hokkaido, Japan. When I arrived in Ninguru Terrace, it was at the sunset time, snowing heavily and the sky was about to turn from dark blue to black very quickly. I found a good shooting spot, attached the QooCam on 3 meters selfie pole, and started to shoot in time lapse mode with two different exposure values in order to capture the full dynamic range. In time-lapse mode, people got blurred due to slow shutter speed, which is easier for me to mask out the blurred people out in post processing. More importantly, the time lapse DNG files could also be imported to Raw+ and improve image quality dramatically as I mentioned before!

I shot at least five panoramas at Ninguru Terrace. I like the first one best because

1. There are no people inside the scene

2. The fully dynamic range is captured and treated well

3. The shooting spot is three meters high which is high enough for a panoramic view.

4. The shooting time is almost perfect thus the sky is blue, the snow is white , the house is warm.

5. I hide myself inside one of the houses

All of the points together make this photo a truly wonderful pure fairy tale world!

(click the photo above and view in 360°)

Q9: When shooting with QooCam in travelling, any tips for the equipment? (e.g. selfie stick, tripod…)

 

1.  Selfie sticks

 

2. Tripod

3. A spare TF cardin case you are running out of storage since DNG8 shots take 120MB per photo.

4.  Take alaptop and make photo copy every day in an organized way and do some post processing if possible.

5. Keeping training yourself and with trials and errors you can definitely shoot better in the future! It works on me and hopefully also work on you.