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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

A catalog for Sigma Files

Just some geeky tech stuff…

in Sigma , Saturday, June 16, 2018

As a long term user of Sigma fixed-lens cameras (I was going to say “compact” but then glanced at the dp0 Quattro on my desk) one of the most frustrating things is the difficulty with browsing photos on disk. Sigma’s Raw formats are read by very few applications, and although Quattro cameras now support DNG, which makes life easier, this comes with the drawback of not being able to use Sigma Photo Pro (SPP) for raw processing. Many would say that was a plus, but in my opinion, the combined effect of the latest version of Adobe Lightroom’s poor rendering of the DNGs, and the big step forward Sigma have taken with Photo Pro v6.6 sways the balance towards proprietary X3F files. Honestly, if you’re going to go to all the trouble involved in using a Sigma camera, it seems pretty nuts to settle for arguably sub-optimal output.

So, I needed a solution. SPP’s file browser is truly dreadful. It has no facility for marking folders as favourites, it cannot peek inside a folder to see if it has no Sigma Raw files and thus exclude it, it has no standard metadata features, etc etc. It’s a real pain.

There aren’t many alternatives: my standard tool for cataloging outside of Lightroom is MediaPro, which I use for mainly for film scans these days, but in the past I used for everything. I’ve probably been using it in various incarnations for 20 years or more. The last significant update to MediaPro was under its original owner, iView, to version 3. That was in 2004 if I remember correctly. Since then it has been owned by Microsoft, then PhaseOne, and has benefited from almost no functional development. PhaseOne’s last effort, “MediaPro SE” brought only OS compatibility (supposedly) and alignment with CaptureOne.  MediaPro SE still has quaint menu items such as “Backup to CD-ROM”. So, the chances of MediaPro supporting X3F files are in the snowstorm in hell category.

But there is one last chance: iDimager Systems PhotoSupreme (PSU). I’ve been trying to get to grips with PSU for a while. Generally I found it a very frustrating experience. PSU has a bizarre User Interface, at least for one coming to it from an application like MediaPro, or indeed Lightroom. For me Version 3 was also alarmingly unstable - you do not want an application that you invest a lot of effort into to trash it’s database too often - and at times extremely sluggish. But it could read X3F files and extract the embedded JPG. And it had a lot of other promising but infuriating features. Nevertheless MediaPro was still more elegant and intuitive, after all the years of neglect. So I set PSU aside and struggled on with SPP’s browser.

Then came PSU Version 4. I was dubious at first, the upgrade price of some $100 seemed pretty steep, and I wasn’t that optimistic. But eventually I took the plunge, and so far, it’s working out pretty well.  With PSU, I can now import X3F files, catalog them, organise them, smoothly review in anything up to full screen, and compare several files using the Light Table. What’s more, with one click I can send them directly to Sigma Photo Pro. And after I process them in SPP, I can import the TIFs into PSU and bind them with their source X3F into Version Sets (basically what Lightroom calls Stacks, only more like Aperture’s stacks, without Lightroom’s bone-headed limitations). 

Here are a few screenshots to illustrate the various steps:

Photosupreme2a

A selection of X3F thumbnails in PhotoSupreme

Photosupreme3

X3F thumbnails shown in PhotoSupreme’s Light table mode

Photosupreme5

Full size image shown in PhotoSupreme

Photosupreme2b

Sigma Photo Pro in PSU - click to open the selected image in SPP

Photosupreme1

selected image in Sigma Photo Pro

Photosupreme6

Stacked / Versioned X3F and SPP-exported TIFF in PSU

PSU Version 4 also has a reworked UI, which makes it considerably easier to get to grips with its modus operandi. It still has some rough edges though, and the developer (iDimager Systems is a one-man show, as far as I know) would do well to hire a User Experience consultant. Although to be fair probably that would not be commercially realistic. But all in all it works, and it has some very nice features, apart from the powerful Versions concept. For example, it can apply quite impressive approximate renderings to Raw files processed in Lightroom, CaptureOne and DxO PhotoLab. On the downside, it really is very inadequately documented.

But in any case, for me at least it is a really liberating experience to be able to use extensive Digital Asset Management tools on my Sigma X3F Raw files. I very much work with sets of photos, not individual shots, and the editing process (in the traditional sense) is actually more important to me than editing (in the digital photography sense). So PhotoSupreme is well worth the money, and the still fairly steep learning curve.

 

E4, E6

Checkmate for film?

in Film , Monday, April 16, 2018

The lab which processes my E6 film has just raised their price per roll from CHF 13.50 to CHF 17.50, an increase of nearly 30%. I say “lab”, but really I am pretty certain they now outsource E6 processing, and I suspect there is only one E6 lab still operating in Switzerland. Similar, I suspect that Fujifilm mail-in processing in Switzerland is also outsourced, although it is many years since I used their service.

For several years now I have been using Fotomedia both for buying and processing film. They also sell a wide range of analogue (and digital) photo products, and their range, delivery times, and customer service are distinctly superior to the hipster’s choice, Ars Imago (e.g. a roll of 35mm Provia 100F costs CHF 13.90 at Fotomedia and arrives in 1-2 days. At Ars it costs CHF 18 and will arrive whenever they take enough time off from stroking their beards to get down to the post office). But at least we still have a choice.

And by the way, this puts an XPan frame at CHF 1.50, and a 612 frame at CHF 4.50, using Provia 100F from Fotomedia. Velvia costs more, so it’s just as well that I don’t like it.

Velvia100F

They don't make 'em like that any more... expired 2011.05



My fear is that the first plank to collapse will be E6 processing. Fuji are showing every sign of getting out of film completely, and at present the only E6 slide films on the market are Fuji Provia 100F and Fuji Velvia 50/100. If these are withdrawn, the remaining weak business case for commercial E6 processing vapourises. Only Fuji and Kodak still produce E6 chemistry as far as I know - and I doubt that Fuji would see any business case for carrying on.

The best possible scenario for the new E6 films from Ferrania and Kodak seems to be that they’ll arrive too late to save the day - and that therefore they will be cancelled. New Ektachrome was announced well over a year ago, and since then there has been scant evidence that it is a real project. The Ferrania Kickstarter was fully funded to the tune of some $320’000 in October 2014 and the latest news from them is basically more excuses. Then again if Kodak overestimated the challenge of restarting Ektachrome production, what chance do Ferrania have?

And anyway, who actually wants E6 film? The #FilmsNotDead crowd certainly aren’t interested in anything that produces a recognisable image, and it is difficult to rationally defend against the argument that digital effectively replaced slide film.

So, basically, there are no new serious film cameras, E6 film is on Death Row, and E6 processing is approaching unjustifiable pricing. The only glimmer of hope is that Kodak still has a solid business selling 35mm cinefilm. However unless I'm mistaken there is no E6 reversal cinefilm. Fujifilm is currently keeping side film alive entirely on their own, with Provia, Velvia and some stuff sold under the Agfa brand name. Since Fuji seem hellbent on killing film this Last Stand is more than a little ironic.

FILM Ferrania has recently made a call for investors, and despite all the above, I’m tempted to buy a small stake. But honestly, it doesn’t seem to be a logical move.



 

“Full Frame” from Inland Sea

A quick review…

in Product reviews , Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One of the least interesting parts of the digital image workflow is nevertheless one of the most critical: getting files off of a memory card and storing them safely on disk. The absolute basic step here is safely copying data, which generally is a solved problem. However there is a bit more to it than that: things like renaming files to something meaningful, rather than the cryptic names so beloved of digital camera designers, storing them in a defined structure based on simple attributes such as capture date and also more advanced ones such as camera serial number, adding basic metadata, making safety copies in another location, and automating all of the above are valuable features.

Most imaging applications such as Lightroom or Capture One have some degree of ingest / import functionality, but I’ve always found it to be incomplete in one detail or the other. Also, I prefer to keep this part of the workflow independent from editing and developing.

For many years I’ve used the dedicated applications produced by Marc Rochkind, ImageIngester Pro and later Ingestamatic. These are very powerful and allow an almost endless amount of customisation, supporting all I’ve described above and more. Much more. However they have two drawbacks: the user interfaces are indescribably awful, to the point that it seems intentional. It would be hard to implement such dreadful usability purely out of chance. That can be overcome with time, and the fact that both applications are essentially “set and forget”. And once they are set up, the underlying code proves to be fast and ultra-reliable. The second drawback, however, is a show-stopped: last year, Rochkind, apparently defeated by changes to the MacOS API, announced that he was discontinuing development, and ending support at the end of 2017. Ingestamatic still works, at least under OS X Sierra (I see zero reason to “upgrade” to High Sierra), albeit with a prominent kludge, but it’s a dead parrot.

So, I had to find an alternative, which is easier said than done. Actually I do have a license to one product which does fit the bill, PhotoSupreme, but that is so clunky that firing it up just to import files to disk is too dire to contemplate. Another alternative is Photo Mechanic, but I don’t really need 95% of its functionality, so paying nearly $200 was not attractive. I was getting close to doing do, nevertheless, when I came across a reference somewhere to a product I’d never heard of, Full Frame by Inland Sea.

Superficially, Full Frame follows a similar philosophy to Ingestamatic. It is designed to offer comprehensive photo browsing and importing support, no more, no less. To be honest, it doesn’t quite have the depth of Ingestamatic, but what it does have is presented with far more panache and grace.

Full Frame has a deceptively simple UI. When no source is selected (card, camera or folder) it is basically blank. But as soon as you identify a source, using the left dropdown, it populates the main window with thumbnails. Clicking on Copy will then swiftly copy all files (or just a selected subset) to the destination volume, identified in the right dropdown. That in itself is obviously no big deal, but the usefulness of Full Frame is revealed when you peep behind the scenes.

Fullframe1

Full Frame window showing contents of the SD Card from the Olympus TG-5 Tough which I just received as a gift and was trying out today.

Within Preferences, the Filenames dialog allows pretty much any folder name / file name pattern on the destination volume to be specified. Well, it works for my weird, necessarily convoluted scheme, anyway.

Fullframe2

Metadata Preferences allow a wide range of Exif, IPTC, GPS, XMP and other metadata fields to be applied to imported items. These can also be arranged as custom presets. This appears to be very extensive and powerful, approaching functionality in the far more costly Photo Mechanic. I can’t really evaluate it as frankly it is more the sort of thing that, I imagine, would appeal to event photographers and suchlike. But it looks pretty useful.

A floating “Inspector” window shows an extensive list of properties of the selected image. I guess this might be useful, but so far I haven’t really found a practical use for it.

I’ve been using Full Frame for a month or so now, and it has happily swallowed everything I’ve thrown at it, including indigestion-inducing Sigma DNG files. I have had some occasions where it appears to sit there thinking about life, the universe and everything, before suddenly springing into life and, apparently, copying several GBs in a few seconds. This is quite weird, as it is totally impossible to copy data so fast over USB3. I have a hunch that there is some issue synchronising between the actual ingestion process and the UI updating.

There are some things I’d like to see Full Frame do better. For example, it would be very useful to be able to use certain EXIF fields in the folder / file name template. It would also be very useful to be able to save variants of folder / file name template to be selected at Copy time, or even better, associated with a given camera. It seems from Metadata preferences that code to do something very similar, in both cases, already exists in the app. Oh yes, and one other thing: these import-specific configuration dialogs (Filename, Metadata) should not be in Preferences, but rather have their own menu item / window. In my humble opinion, anyway.

But finally, I’m afraid that apart from extremists like me, there isn’t much of a market for Full Frame. Also, the name doesn’t really describe the functionality, and given that I’d been looking around for something like this, but it took me years to find it, perhaps it needs more targeted marketing. Despite this, and my light criticisms, I thoroughly recommend Full Frame. It costs CHF 29 for full functionality, with alternative restricted or pay-you-go schemes. Compared with Photo Mechanic at $150, it’s a steal.

 

Website refresh

yesterday and today

in General Rants , Thursday, February 08, 2018

Well this has taken a while. I started working on a redesign of this website around about May 2016. The basic idea has survived, and is pretty much what I’m releasing now, finally, nearly 2 years later. The basic concept was quite straightforward: I wanted to shift the focus a little more towards my photography, to reduce clutter, and to refresh the design a bit. The execution was anything but simple. First of all, I had to sort out the underlying technology, and apply various updates. That broke stuff, in all sorts of ways, mainly badly written code that wouldn’t work anymore. So I had to go through my rats nest of templates and scripts and clean them out. Actually this led to an interim update about a year ago, when I put the cleaned up version of the old design online. Of course there was no outward benefit to this.

screenshot

The home page earlier this week, and the home page today.

But then I could start working on shifting to the new design. I spent ages faffing around with stuff like web fonts, and even on a completely new concept using Koken. I had decided to completely rework the photo gallery part, and in particular revisit the contents from scratch. Just selecting and preparing the photos was an endless task. I had decided to add a new “Photo Diary” section, which is basically a blog with pictures and very few words, but of course I needed content for that too. And tellingly, the actual dates on the first two entries are really from Autumn 2016. I could maybe have stopped there, but no, I then decided to add this “Destinations” concept, which provides another way to discover and explore content. I’m quite pleased with that, in fact.

And so on and so forth. All this wasn’t helped by having very little time to work on this, usually just a few minutes here and there every week, which didn’t help with continuity, or remembering what I was meaning to do next. Finally I’ve arrived at a point where it seems complete and stable enough to throw it out there to sink or swim. There are still a few enhancements I’d like to add, mainly to do with the visibility of visitor feedback. I also need to make some further technical upgrades, but hopefully it will be relatively painless this time.

I don’t think I’ll be putting myself through this again. If I ever do another major upgrade, I’ll use some cookie cutter thing like Squarespace. Following this DIY approach has the benefit of allowing me to present everything exactly in the way I want it, albeit constrained by my abilities, rather than to fit in with some generic concept. And since I’m largely doing this for myself, that still makes sense, but only up until the point where it becomes unsustainable, and that point is quite near.

I’m sure there are bugs, glitches and gotchas all over the place, but I can’t procrastinate forever. Either it works well enough, or it will be time to call it quits. Hopefully the objective of providing a better platform for my photography has been met at least in part. Then it will have all been worth it.

 

Four books

Photography where it belongs

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I acquired four new photobooks over the Christmas period - 2 gifts and 2 gifted to myself. I’ve decided to bunch quick reviews of all four together here, because otherwise I’ll never cover all four.

four books

A Beautiful Silence - Steve Gosling

A Beautiful Silence is a collection of photographs taken over 3 weeks by Steve Gosling as part of the staff on a photographic cruise to the South Atlantic and Antarctic Peninsula. It reads much like a visual travel diary, but rises several notches above the average vacation shot collection. More than several, in fact: A Beautiful Silence goes beneath the skin of both the location and the photographer, and presents a deeply personal vision of an area that perhaps we’ve become photographically too accustomed to. The other-worldly beauty and fascination of the environment certainly comes across, but so too does the personal impact on the photographer. The sense of separation from the familiar tangibly comes across in the selection of the photographs, and the interpretation goes way beyond the superficial.

Steve Gosling also has developed a clear personal style, whether in monochrome or colour, favouring strong contrast and uncluttered compositions. I get a feeling that he tends more and more towards a preference for monochrome, and to my tastes his style works better there. In colour he prefers a certain kind of high saturation which although quite different from the usual “all sliders at 11”, burn-your-eyeballs-out style favoured by more populist photographers, it isn’t always to my taste. Nevertheless this doesn’t detract from the overall atmosphere, and anyway, my tastes are not exactly a benchmark.

Technical note: The production of A Beautiful Silence was assisted by Olympus, who get a big credit, and all the photography was made using Olympus cameras. Normally I wouldn’t mention this, but since I use Olympus gear as well it is interesting to be able to compare results. In my polar photography I have seen a tendency for Olympus cameras to produce very harsh noise in the deep, saturated blues found in many iceberg shots. I see hints of the same issue in Steve’s shots. My solution has been to be very, very careful with sharpening and noise reduction in these areas. Still, the overall quality of the finished product does bear clear testimony to the fact that Olympus Micro four Thirds cameras are as significantly beyond sufficiency as any other type these days.

You can order “A Beautiful Silence” directly from Steve, via the contact at his website. No, he doesn’t make it particularly easy :-)

William Neill Photographer - A Retrospective - William Neill

I’m going to risk being burned as a heretic here, but I’ll say up front, I have not been able to engage with this book. This hefty tome presents a retrospective of work by US photographer William Neill over the last 4 decades. It is beautifully printed and presented, like all of TripleKite’s publications, and I even got my name in the credits as I pre-ordered.

There is no doubt that William Neill’s photography is technically flawless. Everything is fantastically controlled, from concept, through execution, to post-production. But the overall impression I get is that this is in fact really his objective: to achieve the perfect photograph. And the problem is, the actual subjects of the photographs seem to be interchangeable and of secondary importance at best.  All of the classic themes of “Fine Art” landscape photography are present and correct, autumnal forests, misty waterfalls, misty forests, macro flora, misty macro flora. There is even a short Antarctic section, drawn from a 5-day trip. Only towards the end does something a little unusual crop up, in a set of semi-abstract, intentional camera movement shots. And everything is flawlessly executed. The full photographic content of the book is actually viewable online.

Perhaps it is the nature of a retrospective, but I don’t get any clear sense of what William Neill is really trying to achieve.  Although, and I emphasise, the photography is exceptional, he appears to mainly travel around to find locations that will best allow him to demonstrate his commendable skills. That’s all well and good, and even ideal for a commercial photography, but it doesn’t inspire me much. Ten or fifteen years ago, I’d have thought differently, but my photographic horizons and education have expanded, and these days I’m looking for something beyond superficial beauty.

I think classic landscape photographers will love this book, though, and they are obviously the target audience. This is made quite clear by the appendix, which carefully lists all of the technical details of the photos. I’m really not sure why photography books, other than educational manuals, do this - really, does it matter that the photography used a Canikony Rocketflash XYZ1000 Mark 36 Turbo with go-faster stripes? Not to me it doesn’t, in fact I find it vaguely degrading. True, the same can be said for Steve Gosling’s book, but that is offset by the fact that it was sponsored by Olympus, who will want their pound of flesh. I’m not sure what the reason is here.

But don’t mind me - you can, and should, order “William Neill Photographer - A Retrospective” from TripleKite Publishing, who are a truly fantastic company with unreal production values (but see postscript below :-( )

Svalbard, An Arcticficial Life - Julia de Cooker

The driving force behind “Svalbard, An Arcticficial Life” is one I can strongly identify with: the desire to capture the strangeness, but also the comfort, of a living space artificially layered over a fundamentally hostile place. Svalbard cannot of itself support human life, or at least not in the form of a modern Western culture. I suppose it could have supported Inuit communities had they ever reached its isolated shores. Nevertheless, there are three thriving outposts, Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Ny Alesund, and a handful of abandoned settlements (Pyramiden, Ny London). The photography in this book is drawn from inside and around Longyearbyen and Barentsburg.

The incongruous shot of a stretch limo against an Arctic background has already appeared in a number of reviews of this book in international and specialist press, but it is only one of many that could be selected as a highlight. The collection of landscapes, wide and intimate, of portraits, and of interior and exterior scenes of everyday life in Svalbard all combine to perfectly depict the atmosphere of this strange place. The photography itself is crystalline, befitting the subject. This is a book to immerse yourself in. It really strikes a chord with me, which might be a personal thing, but there is some really strong story-telling going on here.

The production quality of the book is excellent. The publisher, Kehrer Verlag, Berlin, has a very interesting and prolific catalog - I have a couple of other books published by them, “Steinholt” by Christopher Taylor, and “Restricted Areas” by Danila Tkachenko, and I’m sure these won’t be the last. There is no technical information on the photography at all (which is fine with me), but based on the general feel and the rather formal poses in the portrait shots, I have a hunch that it could be shot on large format film.

You can order “Svalbard, An Arcticficial Life” direct from Kehrer Verlag or from Beyond Words.

Abruzzo - Michael Kenna

Last but very far from least, Abruzzo by Michael Kenna. There isn’t really much I can add to any conversation about Kenna. There are very, very few photographers who have carved such a distinct, instantly recognisable style. Many have tried to copy it, but a square format, black & white and long exposures are just the ingredients, and the way in which they are blended together is pretty much unique.

Michael Kenna’s style is so fully established that it becomes almost transparent - as far as form is concerned, you know exactly what to expect, and all attention is available for the content. There is a strong element of a direct connection in his photography which I’ve rarely seen - the equipment, the mechanics of making photographs, the burden of making choices, all of which get in the way somehow, here are just invisible. We know exactly what the constraints are going to be, so we can fully absorbed by the image.

The element of direct connection is very present in Abruzzo. Immediately you feel that the photography has a strong emotional connection with the place, and wants to find out what makes it tick. Studies of otherwise banal scenes like beach umbrellas convey identity and character. There is one shot taken from a low perspective on a mountain road which just reeks of warm asphalt and pine trees.

Actually, because of this character in Kenna’s photography, I’m quite selective in buying his books. For example, personally I’ve never been especially interested in Japan, therefore his Japanese work doesn’t really attract me. Probably that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But in any case “Abruzzo” absolutely envelopes me, and I’m sure it is a book I will revisit time and again.

You can order “Abruzzo” from Nazraeli Press.


Beyond Words also stock the last 3 of these books.  Beyond Words is a bricks & mortar and online shop dedicated to photobooks, and very much deserves our support!

POSTSCRIPT - between the time I started writing this and finishing, Triplekite Publishing sadly announced they were ceasing all publication and selling off stock. This is pretty bad news - they haven’t provided any details at all, but I can only assume that financial reasons were a big part of this. Unfortunately these days the photography is all about gear and instant, fleeting validation. People complain about books costing $75 but quite happily pay $200 for a camera strap. These days, as they say, everybody is a photographer. But hardly anybody is interested in photography.

 
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