1. Can AWB be trusted or it is best to set WB according to the different lighting conditions?
It really depends upon what you are shooting and how you are capturing images as to whether AWB is useful or not. The first answer is that if you are shooting RAW then AWB is irrelevant as you will be setting the white balance in the RAW converter. As an addendum to that each RAW converter has its own method for doing white balance correction so even if you use the same white balance numbers in each converter you will end up with different result. So, using AWB and shooting RAW will give you a starting point for the conversion in the RAW convertor, if you ask the RAW convertor to automatically recalculate the white balance then it will come up with a different value.
The second answer is that setting White Balance on the camera is only essential when shooting JPEG. AWB suffers the same issue that setting auto exposure suffers from - if you have a scene which is uniform grey then it will give a perfect result, however, if there is a colour cast in the scene then AWB will try and force the scene to a uniform grey colour. This can be particularly evident if shooting a scene which is artificially illuminated or at sunrise/sunset when there is a particular colour cast you wish to capture as part of the image. In these cases it makes more sense to set the white balance manually (Tungsten - if shooting indoors e.g. a concert, or Daylight/Cloudy if shooting a sunset).
If you can get to shooting RAW then you give yourself maximum flexibility at a later stage to adjust the white balance to get either the correct or an artisitic rendition of the scene.
2. I can't change the PFs. I sit with the manual and camera together but the ON and OFF buttons simply do not turn green, no matter how I play with the QCD and 'select' button. What am I missing?
To adjust the PFs you need to connect the camera to the computer and use EOSViewer (I believe this is the correct app - though it could be one of the others) to set the Personal Functions. Once activated then they can be adjusted on the back of the camera.
3. The camera can be set to shoot at RAW + JPEG. In which conditions is it advisable to record the same image with two different formats? I can think of none.....
It depends upon your particular needs. JPEGs are good for generating quick proofs, so if you need to turn around images quickly you could set to shoot RAW+JPEG small or medium and be able to send quick proof JPEGs to someone for review as soon as you have completed shooting. Once a selection of pictures has been made then you can work on the RAW files to produce higher quality finished images. However, with modern quick computers and the current crop of RAW converters you could quite easily do the same by running the RAW files through the RAW converter to get quick proofs. It's down to workflow and how quickly you need to get proofs to someone else.
4. Do you find ISO bracketing and/or WB bracketing useful? Why?
If you are shooting RAW then then WB Bracketing is irrelevant. I've nver used ISO bracketing, and in reality I had forgotten that this function existed. Personally I prefer exposure bracketing on a tripod to extend the dynamic range of the camera.
8. The 1D is noisy. Which software is more recommended, Noise Ninja or Neat Image? Or another one? I am talking both of performance and ease of use.
Both packages appear to be comparable - there probably isn't much to choose between them. I use Noise Ninja (but that isn't necessarily an endorsement) and then use default noise reduction for colours and reduce the luminance noise reduction so that detail is preserved. On a 1DII I find that the most objectional noise is caused by chroma noise (colour blotching) which can be quite successfully minimised, I don't find much need to reduce luminance noise which reduces detail in the image.
9. Which softwares do you use regularly? Why? What are the computer requirements to run them efficiently? I need to buy a new computer as well. Mine is ~10 years old :-(
Capture One + Adobe Photoshop CS. I use Capture One when I have a large number of RAW images to convert, I am quite comfortable with the user interface and it performs well for processing a large number of images quickly. Photoshop CS is a mainstay of image editing and can't be avoided if you want to manipulate images effectively. I will probably upgrade to CS2 early next year and drop Capture One as the bridge application and new versions of ACR meet my particular requirements.
If you are looking to purchase software then get trial versions and try them out - you can also look at Raw shooter essentials (which is Capture One derived) and Bibble to determine which meets your needs.
As to a computer...depends upon budget, but in principle you need a minimum 2Gbytes RAM, 3GHz+, if you can purchase a dual core (or a computer that can be udpated to dual core) then all the better. Storage - photoshop works best with a separate swap disk as fast as possible - adding a Western Digital raptor disk drive is a good move it doesn't have to be high capacity but its speed will help Photoshop when you have large files to manipulate. Also, consider buying a RAID based external storage (RAID5 provides protection for your data in case one of the drives fails - which it will do at some time in the next 24 months). I saw the following NAS devices recently which appear resonable value - Thecus N4100
- there are plenty of other options on the market at varying prices.
10. Is there any software which can remedy the high ISO banding?
Try Capture One - there is a check box in the processing preferences to correct banding.
11. Is there any reason not to turn Noise reduction ON?
Noise reduction only applies to long exposures (over 30 seconds?). It operates by taking the image, then taking another image with the shutter closed of equal duration to the original exposure. This second 'dark frame' is used subtracted from the original exposure to reduce dark noise. Therefore, if you are doing a 5 minute exposure with noise reduction on you will need to wait another five minutes before taking your next frame. With noise reduction off you can take an image immediately. For exposures less than 30 seconds then Noise Reduction On/Off has no effect.
NB As a note, with the new sensors in the 5D this functionality is built into the sensor design so doesn't become an issue.
12. Do you need to apply USM to JPEG or just RAW files? I intend to start shooting in JPEG/Large format to get used to this digital "thing" somewhat gradually.
Typically you would set sharpening in camera to sharpen up the JPEG a little bit, with RAW the camera does no sharpening so it needs to be done on the computer (using USM or any other method that may be applicable). However, dependent upon your workflow you may choose to set sharpening of JPEGs to minimum and then do it on the computer once the picture has been taken. It really depends on your workflow, if the JPEGs need to be sent off as quickly as possible to the client then you will do sharpening in the camera. If you have more time then you can do more sophisticated sharpening on the computer at a later time whether you are shooting JPEG or RAW.
13. Colour Matrix: sRGB this, sRGB that, Adobe RGB, chroma, hue, gamut, oh my dear god. Does it really matter? Is the "Digital photography for dummies" book recommended?
Probably - the more you read and chat with other people the more you are going to learn. If you do a search on Amazon for books by Bruce Fraser then they get a good write up (though I havne't read them myself, so perhaps ask others for their views). The main difference between sRGB adn aRGB is the amount of colours that can be captured - both are able to capture the same number of colours in the red and blue area, however, aRGB is able to capture deeper greens than sRGB. To bear in mind - most monitors are only able to display the range of colours captured in sRGB so if you are mostly intending to display online then that is the better and easier colour space to work with. If you are doing landscape with lots of green/yellow then using aRGB will allow the camera to discern more detail in the landscape without loosing detail because the colours are too rich. This is a bigger topic than can be covered in a small paragraph and there are plenty of posts on the forum (probably articles in Michaels site) if you dig around a little.