Just some stuff about photography

INDEX

Down in the details

Flip, Flop

in Photography , Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back in June 2006, several geological eras ago in Internet years, I wrote a blog post which started out like this:

Following earlier posts about this, today I managed to find time to evaluate Iridient RAW Developer 1.5.1 against CaptureOne Pro 3.7.4, for Olympus E-1 RAWs. The results are clear: RAW Developer is extracting more detail and more neutral colour than CaptureOne

Now over 9 years later, I’m repeating the same loop. In recent months I unhappily emigrated from Aperture, and eventually settled on returning to CaptureOne as the best compromise. I painstakingly exported my Aperture library and watched CaptureOne painfully, sluggishly import it. It didn’t do too bad a job - better than Lightroom anyway - and I was more or less able to recreate my Aperture projects within the approximation of MediaPro which has been bludgeoned into CaptureOne. And I diligently set about getting back up to speed with C1, helped by the ample, free tutorial material on Phase One’s website.

I managed to convince myself I (still) quite liked the default “Film curve”, and I was and am impressed by the exposure controls and the layer adjustments, in particular to apply local white balance.  I am a lot less impressed by the total lack of luminosity, or indeed luminance curves/levels.  But I guess I can live with that with some help from the saturation sliders.

But more and more I started getting a feeling that things didn’t look quite right when taking a closer look. I’m no pixel peeper, but even so, once I’ve noticed something at 100% magnification I find it hard to ignore. I was seeing a disturbing “plastic” look in low frequency areas, and lack of definition in high frequency detail like foliage. First I thought it was just a limitation of the small sensor in the Olympus camera I mainly use, or maybe the less than top-level lenses. But then I started down the rocky road of comparing Raw developers. Yet again.

The following nondescript postcard shot from Norway provides a good example - shot with an Olympus E-P5 and 17mm f1.8 lens (actually quite a good lens) at f8.0 (which, yes, is a slightly suboptimal aperture if you’re a pixel peeper), handheld. So it’s hardly a technical masterpiece, or indeed an artistic one.

Drm 2015 06 01 P6012469

Within this photo, I’ve compared two areas at 100%, one processed with Capture One 8.2, the other with Iridient Developer 3.0.3.  The differences, at least to me, are obvious.

Iridient Developer 2

Left: Iridient - Right: Capture One

Iridient Developer

Left: Iridient - Right: Capture One

For the Iridient images, I have used default settings, including the Iridient Reveal sharpening mode and default noise reduction. On the Capture One side, I have used default settings, but with Pre-sharpening 2, and noise reduction disabled. Leaving camera default noise reduction on is a real disaster. I cannot for the life of me imagine why people say Capture One has good noise reduction. And I have tried very hard to fine tune it, I really wanted to be able live with it.  At the same time I briefly tried comparing with Adobe Camera Raw (Photoshop CS6) and Aperture 3. Abobe Camera Raw gave pretty much identical results to Capture One. Aperture was marginally better. But Iridient is miles ahead.

Iridient has one other ace up it’s sleeve, the Lab mode curves. Being able to apply contrast with no colour shift using the luminance curve is very nice. It’s also very good for highlight recovery, which is just as well, as Iridient “Extreme Highlight Recovery” slider is not one of it’s strong points. The sharpening and noise reduction are industry-leading, and the general level of control is outstanding.  Of course, there are no layers, no local adjustments, none of that fancy stuff. But that’s what Photoshop is for.

All this really only holds for my personal experience with Olympus micro-four thirds cameras. I daresay Capture One might handle my Ricoh GR better, but that’s out of scope here. I’m sure it does an excellent job with digital backs and high-end DSLRs, but I really don’t think Phase One has much focus on us “little people” - although they’re happy to take our money.

Probably before long I’ll have changed my mind again, but for the time being I’m fully committed to an Iridient-centric workflow. 

 

Hotel Mundal

living in the past

in Photography , Thursday, July 23, 2015

Many, many years ago, back when I was working as a glaciologist, I attend a conference of a group of scientists studying the Flichner-Ronne ice shelf, in Antarctica. The conference was doubtless interesting, and indeed a highlight was visiting the brand new Norwegian Glacier museum. But the thing that always stuck in my mind was the magical venue. The conference was organised in a place called Hotel Mundal, a classic Norwegian “belle époque” hideaway lying on the shores of the Fjærland fjord, and owned by the family of conference organiser, Olal Orheim (who was also instrumental in founding the Glacier Museum). The hotel was established in the late 19th century to cater for wealthy tourists visiting the glaciers at the head of the fjord, who until then had no choice but to stay on ships anchored offshore.

Back when I first visited, at least if travelling by land, Hotel Mundal was in the back of beyond. The tunnel that now connects Fjærland to Sogndal did not exist, and although you could drive into the area along a largely deserted road, and through another tunnel, to the north, the only way out was by ferry along the fjord. These days, the road is a bit busier, and the ferry port sits abandoned.

I always dreamt of returning one day, and this year, finally, I did, together with my better half, and her mother, who celebrated her 80th birthday at the hotel.

It turns out we were lucky: Hotel Mundal had been sold several times, and was in decline for some time. Last year did not open at all. But this year it has been rescued, by a wonderful couple, Carrie and Idar, who together with their small but fabulous staff (and unbelievable cook) have undertaken to return Mundal to its prime, an epic labour of love.

Every day it seems new treasures are rescued from the cellars, mementoes of famous visitors such as Kaiser Wilhelm or Walter Mondale, or strange, arcane devices for which the purpose is yet to be revealed.

It’s a wonderful place just to relax and bury yourself in the sense of history and belonging. Clearly it is also painfully photogenic, and I cursed my lack of ability as an interior photographer (or indeed any other kind).  But to get a sense of the place, I think it is maybe appropriate to share some photos from a camera with a least one foot in the past, the Bessa III 667, using Portra 400 film. Possibly, somewhere, in a neglected box, I’ve got some earlier snapshots of Mundal. I guess I should take a look for them.

drm_B667_Jun15_04_8
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drm_B667_Jun15_04_9

 

Hotspot

frying tonight

in Product reviews , Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It’s pretty damned hot down here in Canton Ticino. For at least two weeks, afternoon temperatures have been well above 35C, and there hasn’t been a whisper of rain. People are getting tired and irritable - other people, that is, I’m always like that anyway. It’s hardly conducive to being out and about with a camera, but anyway, something prompted me to dig out my Sigma DP2 Merrill, and fortune favoured me with this grab shot.

dp2m_20150720_0012b

This leads me on to a further note on Mylio. I’ve now decided to become a paying customer, and to try to make Mylio work for me. It isn’t perfectly suited to my needs, but it’s closer than pretty much anything else out there.

Mylio, unsurprisingly, does not support Sigma RAW files. It would be totally unreasonable to expect otherwise.  But there is a workaround to this, if you happen to use Iridient Developer as your favoured processor for Sigma X3F files, as I do. Iridient has a neat feature which, when you send it a JPG or a TIFF, allows you to tell it to look for a corresponding RAW file. So, provided I first create JPGs of all my X3F files, which I can batch through Iridient (and it takes quite a while), then Mylio will catalog and display the JPG, and will allow me to send it to Iridient - which then opens the RAW. Problem solved.

Mylio 6

Sigma JPG previews cataloged in Mylio

Unfortunately, this particular image has a bad case of Sigma green/magenta cast disease, which in extreme cases Iridient can’t handle.  So I eventually processed in Sigma Photo Pro instead. And Sigma Photo Pro, which is clearly designed by a part-time high school intern with hostility issues, naturally can’t even open a file directly (you have to use it’s browser) never mind do the JPG-X3F association trick.

Of course, trying to handle Sigma RAW files in Mylio makes me something of an edge case on an edge case, but it is nice that a reasonable workaround exists.

I have now loaded all my RAW, scanned and processed images as far back as 2010 into Mylio, for a total of 40,700 files. It’s coping quite well with this load, so far.  In order to ease the process I’ve completely reorganised my file structures, and now have everything under year headings, as opposed to Original/Finished split across different devices as before. Mylio is happier with this, and it also makes it easier to archive. Actually, I think everything except Aperture, which doesn’t care either way, will be happier with this arrangement.

Unfortunately I’ve discovered that Mylio does not support the RAW format for the Olympus E-1 and E-400, which form the bulk go my pre-2010 work.  So I’ve had to impose a cutoff, and use MediaPro to catalog my earlier archives.

All this administrative work has been a complete pain, especially coming after I had already spent quite some time first trying to do the same thing for PhotoSupreme, and then for CaptureOne.  So I hope I haven’t made a strategic error in going with Mylio. Having finally got a coherent structure in place, with intact key wording, and a revised backup strategy up and running, I really hope I can get back to the actual objective here, enjoying photography.

A few further thoughts on Mylio

Kicking the tyres. Maybe a bit too hard.

in Product reviews , Thursday, July 16, 2015

After writing my initial impressions of Mylio, I have now used it “operationally” to keyword and rate a set of around 700 photos taken over 15 days in Norway. This is pretty much my usual workflow, first I concentrate on initial culling, key wording, and rough ratings, and then I start working on optimising the selects from the RAW file. I’ll then set them aside and do something else for a while - like film scanning - and then come back to do a final select.

So far I’ve most worked on the Mac version of Mylio, although I have used the sync functions to send thumbnails to my iPad and iPhone. The editing stage works well, but with some reservations. I find the select/filter tools a little awkward to get my around: once you understand that they work globally, not on the selected album or object you are working with (so the reverse to Aperture), then it becomes clear. It’s a different way of working, but probably fine.  But there’s some strange view switching going on when editing the filter settings - apparently this is a bug, which will be fixed.  Once I’d got everything settled down, I created a “Norway 2015” album and started working from there.

Here I did encounter a few annoyances. I’m not too wild about Mylio “inventing” keywords for me: it creates a keyword for every folder it “watches”. I don’t want it do this, it is adding useless clutter and making looking up keywords harder than it needs to be.

Mylio

Mylio’s idea of what I’d want to use as keywords diverges from mine

I’m also not sure why the EXIF data in the info panel is so small and hard to read.  I often want to see what f-stop I used when rating photos. Mylio doesn’t make it easy!  Yes, you can adjust the text size, but this is universal. The small size is fine for me, I just want that vital camera data to be more readable. Same goes for the keyword display in the same panel.

Mylio 2

The Camera EXIF data (green box) really keeps itself to itself…


But so far, so good. My first pass reduced the count from 700+ to around 200. I’m casting quite a wide net to start of with.  So, I sat down intending to send the whole set to Iridient Developer for stage 2.  Except that I can’t.  You can select “Open In…” for 1 image, but not multiple images. That is a bit deflating. In fact, that’s enough to make me give up on Mylio for now. No way am I clicking 200 times when any other comparable application would allow me to send the whole set in one action.

Mylio 3

Mylio makes it easy open a photo in a RAW processor…

Mylio 4

..but several photos are not allowed

There are a few other issues I’ve now noticed.  In the RAW development tools, Mylio does not apply embedded lens corrections, at least not from my Olympus E-P5. If I was planning to use this feature, that would be another showstopper.

Mylio 5

This Norwegian cabin really doesn’t bulge like this!

Finally, it would appear that the “Mylio Cloud” has been quietly dropped. It is not longer mentioned anywhere on the website, but instead a vague reference to being able to integrate at some point (but not today) your own choice of cloud storage has appeared.  This seems like a major change of strategy (and possibly a good one), and I would expect to find some official announcement or explanation.  The fact that I can’t - and I have spent while searching - is a little unsettling.

So for me the jury is still out on Mylio. It looks promising, it has potential, but the message is a little confused.  There seems to be a strong focus on the social media market, which of course is understandable, and mandatory if you have the usual airhead VC backers to deal with (not that I’m saying they have). But, Mylio, remember that Facebook and Flickr users expect to get stuff for free. They will not pay you, certainly not $100/year. They are not the “pro” market you seem to be addressing, intermittently. I’ve spent long enough (far too long enough) in IT startups to see the early signs of failing momentum. I do hope I’m wrong when I’m beginning to see it here.  Really I do, because I want what Mylio is promising, very much.

Some thoughts on Mylio

here, there & everywhere

in Product reviews , Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The following is a fairly lengthy commentary on Mylio, a product which has been vaguely on my radar for some time. It first emerged towards the end of 2014, and received a lot of glowing praise. Mylio promises to do this (amongst other things): allow you to access a catalogue of all your photos stored on any of your digital devices on all of these, with near instantaneous updates. It’s an ambitious objective which others have tried, and failed, to achieve, but at this level at least, Mylio absolutely hits it out of the park. So what is Mylio, anyway? To me this was initially a little difficult to grasp, but basically Mylio is a photo management application, with feature-parity applications for Mac, PC, iDevice & Android, together with a set of cloud services and storage which bind all these together, if (and this “if” is important) you want it to.

Mylio

Mylio Mac version, showing a folder view

So why would I need Mylio? Well, the idea of being able to access, and work with, a catalogue and sub-catalogues of my photography at any time and any place is highly appealing. It means, for example, that I can do things like tagging, rating, keyboarding and editing photos (in the sense of curation) while being stuck on a train, or in an airport. It means that I have access at any time to portfolios to show people. Mylio even offers the possibility of processing RAW images from many formats, with quite an extensive toolset.

I’ve been hoping and searching for such a tool for over a decade. Aperture coupled with PixelSync came close, until Apple first destroyed the ability for PixelSync to access Aperture’s library, and then killed Aperture itself. And of course never even attempted to provide a cross-device solution for Aperture. In fact in my opinion Aperture set, and still sets the benchmark for Digital Asset Management (DAM) in the digital photography age. The combination of it’s abstracted approach to file storage, which disassociates the concept of a photo with a single physical file, the much-copied but never equalled Stacks, the superbly implemented metadata tools, the quick browsing mode introduced in later versions, and extras such as the light table and book tools, were and still are way in front of the competition.

Mylio ipad

Mylio iPad version, showing the same folder

It is quite striking now just how many advanced and pro photographers - who we assumed all had to be using Lightroom - are now coming out of the woodwork looking for alternatives to Aperture. The Aperture pro user community was never very verbose, at least compared to Lightroom. There, Adobe marketing lavished money and flattery on building up an army of shills, all in turn pushing their tutorials, books and workshops. It is remarkable how large a market there seems to be for teaching people how to use what is supposed to be such an intuitive application. But it is also remarkable how many articles on Mylio by independent writers mention that they specifically need an alternative to Aperture.  So Mylio is well worth my attention, and setting Aperture as a benchmark seems fair.

As I’ve already said, on the cross-device side Mylio blows Aperture and everything else into the weeds. Setting up multiple devices and synching between them is ridiculously easy. Mylio gets around the issue of moving large amounts of data around by allowing you to set the type of synchronisation by device, at thumbnail, preview or full file level. Using full file synchronisation of course provides a seamless way to maintain backups. Optionally, you can also buy cloud storage and use this to back up valuable files. Mylio does not actually require you to use cloud storage, a point that many seem not to understand. It works at a multi-device peer to peer level, where the cloud is just another device. It also has intelligence, and options, built-in to sync by wifi only when available, and to use cellular data only if enabled. Finally it provides a method of creating a temporary ad-hoc wifi network between two devices for when there is no adequate internet connection available. I could go on for a while about the synchronisation aspects of Mylio, but suffice it to say it is all very, very impressive. Another impressive aspect is the speed of import and preview creation. Aperture was extremely fast at this, compared say to Lightroom or CaptureOne, but Mylio is just as rapid.

Mylio iphone

Mylio iPhone version, again, showing the same folder

For a customer who’s interest in photography is basically as a part of their social life, we could stop here, and just say “buy it”. It is far better than Apple’s offerings, and I assume also Google’s, and Adobe has nothing to touch it in this market. The strong, one-touch integration with Facebook and Flickr is a killer feature. But what about other customers, which for the sake of discussion I’ll call “advanced” ? Well, clearly different advanced customers have different needs, so generalisation is futile, but for me Mylio is not quite there yet.

So what is missing in Mylio ? The biggest stumbling block is the lack of any kind of “Stacks” or “Versions” feature.  A standard Use Case for me is to select a photo and open it in an external RAW processor, such as Iridient Developer, and then save a version back.  I would like my DAM application to keep track of these versions. Mylio cannot. In fact, Mylio, today, can only show one variant of any file with any extension at a time: if you have two files, Myphoto.tif and Myphoto.jpg, in the same folder, Mylio can only show one or the other. Not both. PhotoSupreme can show both, or indeed many, in the same folder - provided they have the same filename root. Aperture could not only show many, but they didn’t have to be in the same folder or even the same volume, or have the same name, because Aperture works by file reference from its database, not by relying on a physical organization. The fact that Mylio cannot do this does make me a little concerned about possible fundamental design weaknesses. However, it does, I believe, have a feature which can detect file duplicates using a hash signature, so possibly an extension of this technology could be used to implement a strong variants feature. Hey, Mylio, if you want me to write the functional specification, just get in touch :-). Or better, as many frustrated CaptureOne users have written in the PhaseOne forums, “just copy Aperture, fercrissakes!”.

Silver Efex Pro 2

The fact that Mylio makes it as easy as a simple click to open a RAW file in any local application that can handle it - here, Nik SiverEFX Pro - makes it incredibly frustrating that it doesn’t follow up and manage the results.

This is really the only major stumbling block for me, but it’s a big one. A medium sized stumbling block is the currently quite primitive keywording system. For something which is aimed at being a near-permanent, long term and robust tool for managing photos - and “memories” - I’d like to see some attention given to a set of keyword and keywording management tools, and metadata management in general. It’s not a bad start at all for a 1st release, but it isn’t 1999 any more. Again, copy Aperture! A smaller complaint is that even in the “fluid” view, there is sometimes some truncation of preview images when the proportions tend towards the wider end. So for a gallery of XPan images this has some limitations.

I should emphasise that I have raised all these points with Mylio support, and have received rapid, detailed and attentive answers. Obviously they’re not going to implement everything every customer asks for, but they do say they’re taking suggestions onboard, and I believe them. Generally Mylio customer support gets very high praise.

The Mylio user interfaces are very smooth and well designed. Generally they are very intuitive, but there’s plenty of online help if you get stuck, there’s the aforementioned excellent customer support, and there’s also The Official Guide to Mylio available at a token price. Really not too much to say there except to compliment Mylio’s UI designers on a job well done. Performance is also good on all devices I’ve used it on (2008 Mac Pro, 2011 MacBook Air, iPad 2, iPhone 5), to the extent that basically you don’t notice it. Which is as it should be. Reviewing, rating and sorting photos in Mylio is a complete breeze.

Mylio also provides a complete set of image editing tools, including a RAW processing stack. I’ve played around with this a bit, and it seems to work well enough, but it isn’t something I would expect to use. Although I can understand the commercial argument behind providing this feature, frankly I think it is a little out of line with the overall Mylio vision. My understanding is that Mylio wants to help liberate us from locked-in, “silo” applications, not provide (yet) another alternative. There is no shortage of excellent, mature RAW processing tools, but on the other hand there are practically no DAM tools, consumer level or other, that aren’t stuck in a 20-year old paradigm. Having said this, the ability to check actual exposure latitude and sharpness when sorting and rating is certainly useful.

So how does a Mylio-based setup compare with other solutions? Well, since Aperture imploded, I’ve tried two things - actually three. I’ll start with the third, which was returning to the venerable, but still quite impressive MediaPro, now owned by PhaseOne. MediaPro has many strengths, and I’m very familiar and invested in it. But since it was first sold to Microsoft, and then to PhaseOne, it has received no significant feature development at all, and is quite literally stuck in the 1990s. It’s a great pity, but clearly it is nuts to hope that PhaseOne are ever going to do anything with it, so despite everything, and with great regret, I’ve largely given up on it. So my next move was to try to find an alternative which did not lead to a new locked-in solution (e.g Lightroom) or indeed to any kind of dependency on Adobe. I found this in IDImager PhotoSupreme, which I’ve written about previously. I still do quite respect PhotoSupreme, but finally I have to admit that it is slow, locks up or crashes when trying to deal with anything heavier than trivial import tasks, and has some quite weird UI design and workflow touches which lead to a near vertical learning curve. It’s got some really nice ideas, but it desperately needs a decent User Experience designer to work with the one-man band developer. Also, it doesn’t even attempt to provide multi-device support. A saving grace is that it does have a “Stacks” feature, and quite an innovative one at that, but it is filename based and is not enough to save the day, for me. So my next move was to see if I could live with CaptureOne 8, complete with it’s kludged-together, bastardised MediaPro catalog add-on. Well, I managed after some effort to import my complete Aperture library, and I have been working with CaptureOne for some months, but ultimately I’m finding that it isn’t the best RAW processor for my Olympus ORF files - it gives very smudgy fine detail - and personally I don’t really like the rather unsubtle default look which it applies, and which is hard to undo. I keep coming back to Iridient Developer. But ultimately, the ideal solution is flexibility of choice, and to use the right tool for the right job, just like we used to be able to choose which film to use. And Mylio promises a solution which easily enables just that.

There has been quite a lot of commentary about Mylio’s pricing on various fora and blogs, with two main themes: first, people are shocked that they’re expected to pay at all, and second that they’re “not gonna put 27 Tb of their photos in any damned cloud”. As far as the second argument is concerned, it’s a complete strawman. Mylio offers a cloud option, but does not require it. You can keep all your originals on your own computer, no problem, no fuss. As for pricing, well personally I’d call Mylio reassuringly expensive. If I’m going to commit basically a lifetime of photography to an application, I want the company behind that application to have a solid long term business model. And such a business model still requires a primary revenue stream. Sure, Google, Yahoo, Facebook will give you “free” cloud space. But if it’s free, you’re not the revenue source, i.e you’re not the customer. Somebody else is. So what are they buying ? If you’re comfortable with the answer to that question, fine. Personally, I’m not. If I decided to go ahead with Mylio, it will cost me $100 a year, for the second tier, which is slightly less than my web hosting. Seems ok to me.

A persistent, and valid criticism of the subscription model is that it pushes you into vendor lock-in. If you have invested a lot of time and effort into working with proprietary tools, then you’re exposed to the risk of losing your work, if the vendor goes to of business, or changes strategy, or you can no longer afford the pricing. Leaving aside the non-destructive RAW processing, Mylio works essentially with XMP sidecar files, so all your rating and keywording work is safe. And since it works with XMP files, any changes made show up in other XMP-conversant applications, and, generally, vice-versa.  I say “generally” because for example with Iridient Developer, star ratings set in Mylio show up fine (Iridient reads the XMP file), but in reverse direction it doesn’t work, as Iridient writes only to it’s own, proprietary idsf file. Which, really, is fine, as I’d want to use Mylio to rate and sort photos, and then send them as a batch to Iridient to process them.

And this, then, is where just now, it all breaks down. As I’ve already said, Mylio cannot recognise multiple derivatives, or variants, of the same photo, so when I save a TIFF back from Iridient, Mylio, having it’s “prefer RAW” option set, will ignore it - unless I change the filename root, thus destroying the only referencing I have. And even then, Mylio will interpret this as a new, completely separate photo.  It is a new file - but it is not a new photo. Until Mylio sorts this out, it will remain a highly promising, ever-so-close, but ultimately inadequate application for me. I’ll just have to hope that I’m not the only one who feels this way, and that there is sufficient business justification to expand the feature set.

So, in summary, I like Mylio a lot. It doesn’t (yet?) do quite what I want, but it might still do enough to be worth subscribing too. But it you are not burdened by the cumbersome needs of my personal workflow, you might already find that Mylio’s fulfilled promise of letting you access all your photos, on any device, everywhere, is quite enough reason to adopt it.

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