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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Going wide in Antarctica

a weird, but wonderful camera

in Sigma , Friday, February 19, 2021

I have written more than one post about my enthusiasm for the Sigma dp0 Quattro. Having just completed editing the series of photos I took with it in Antarctica little over a year ago, I felt like writing a bit more.

For me the dp0 plays the role of high quality digital panoramic camera, hence my describing it as the digital XPan, with a similar multi-aspect ratio, except in this case the “single frame” is actually has the same long-edge resolution as the panorama.

So, the dp0 panorama mode is a crop, but for me the fact that I get the crop (a rather unique 21:9) on screen means that I can compose in panoramic mode, rather that crop afterwards in post production, and that makes a big difference. It means I can set my creative brain to panoramic mode and not get distracted by elements outside of the composition. But it also means I can move the panoramic frame in post, which essentially gives me positive and negative shift control. Of course this is all artificial, and yes, to some extent you can do it with any camera, but there is a psychological aspect to this which makes me feel like I’m using a true panoramic camera and therefore helps me find appropriate compositions. It would be even better if Sigma introduced a firmware upgrade which allowed me to shift the frame up or down in-camera.

But apart from all the pseudo-panorama babble, what brings me back to the dp0 time and time again is the delicate colour and superfine detail that comes from the combination of the fixed 14mm lens and the Foveon sensor. I don’t really mean detail in the pixel-peeping sense: sure you zoom in to 100% and see amazing resolution. In fact you can go beyond, almost to 300% before things start to break down, but to my eyes there is something about the detail at any zoom level. It looks quite different to other digital cameras, even medium format.

The other thing about the dp0 is how light it is, especially given what it delivers. The unique shape makes it a little cumbersome to pack, not to mention a reliable attention grabber on the street, but generally it is very easy to carry around, and once you get used to its different way of doing things, quite a pleasure to use.

All of this adds up to a camera which very easily justifies its space in the very limited luggage one can carry to Antarctica, especially when sailing on a small boat.

I find that the dp0 - and indeed, the DP2 Merrill I used previously - responds very well to Antarctic light and atmospheric conditions. It excels at conveying the unreal sense of detail that you see in the landscape, where the lack of humidity and pollutants in the air allow even very distant scenes to appear crystal clear. Of course it does have drawbacks too: dynamic range is not great, and highlight clipping is generally completely irrecoverable. Highlights also clip very abruptly, which also places limitations on some types of long exposure where brighter areas can burn out in a very ugly way. Having said all that, when it works, it works like nothing else I’ve ever used.

I recently published a photo diary of dp0 shots - a mix of full frame and panoramic.  Here are a few more shots which I didn’t include there.

Drm 20161202 DP0Q0544

To give some idea of the detail, the speck in the air to the left in the photo above is a helicopter. At 1:1 it looks like this:

Drm 20161202 DP0Q0544 helicopter
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Drm 20200120 P0Q1045 1
Drm 20200122 P0Q1083
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Drm 20200123 P0Q1104

 

 

 

Missing the shot

It’s not the end of the world

in Photography , Tuesday, February 02, 2021

I have just about finished reprocessing around 450 selected photos from last January in Antarctica (out of over 6000). I’m still unable to see the wood for trees, so I don’t really know if there are any genuinely good photos in there, but at least I am moving in the direction of more ruthless culling. Ultimately I want to try to narrow down the fruits of 5 visits to Antarctica down to a very small set. 

During the last visit, I finally got to see some orcas. And not just in the distance, and not just one or two. The ship was surrounded by a curious pod for some hours, swimming around, under and close to over us until they got bored and wandered off to look for some penguins to massacre.

Of course at this time it was all cameras blazing, while getting elbowed aside by the more dedicated wildlife photographers (everybody except me). I didn’t really get any good shots, not helped by my aversion to using continuous shooting, or failing to learn how to use the very clever Pro Capture mode of my Olympus camera.

So of course I was disappointed, I felt I’d missed the chance of a lifetime, I’m a hopeless photographer, woe is me, etc etc etc.

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About the best photo I got. Poor timing and poor focus”

But wait a minute…  Orcas! I’ve seen orcas! I’ve seen wild mother and calf orcas up close, but really close! In the Antarctic!  So, why on earth do I value that experience by the number or quality of photos I made?

As photographers we need to step back sometimes and take in the wider view. Sure, we want to make good photos, but it’s pretty sad if we let the quality of our photos dictate our enjoyment of life.

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Once both the orcas and the wildlife photographers had wandered off for penguins / coffee and downloading their memory cards respectively, I managed to get a few more environmental shots that I’m a bit happier with.

Of course it would have been nice to grab a prize-winning photo at the same time…

 

Them ‘ol stagnation blues

meanwhile, at the crossroads

in General Rants , Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Life goes on, and one sure thing is that my virtual stack of photos grows ever higher. Unfortunately, my satisfaction with said stack only diminishes. I’ve been doing photography as my main pastime for over 20 years, and I have to admit that I’ve got little to show for it.  I have very few photos I find rewarding, and I fear that if I ever hit a peak, it was well in the past and not in the future. And not very high.

Why is this? Well, leaving aside any lack of skill, recently I’ve come to realise that in one way or another, good photos tell a story. This is nothing new, clearly. But it implies that to take a good photo, you need to have a story to tell, or something to express related to the photo. And I don’t really have that, very often. I’m not sure many others do, although many claim to, but I would imagine that if the vast majority of my photos express anything at all, it’s a sense of total detachment. I’m sure somebody, I can’t find who, is quoted as saying “to be a more interesting photographer, become a more interesting person”. A useful instruction, but one I’m afraid I have not managed to complete.

Technically I still always manage to get stuff wrong. The focus is off, or in the wrong place, the depth of field is badly chosen, the composition is insipid or flawed. Even (especially) when presented with fantastic opportunities, I screw up.

Every now and then, I think I’ve actually got something good, but then I compare it against a random selection of other people’s work, and it just looks sad. Every day I see beautiful photography scrolling past on Twitter and Facebook, seemingly effortless created, and every now and then I get tempted to join in, but soon regret it.

I’ve read countless books, studied countless monographs, even watched YouTube videos (ok, only when I was bored), but none of it sinks in.

There’s just something missing. I go through the motions, I present a perfect facade of being a photographer, but I cannot for the life of me create a convincing photograph, and I’m more and more accepting that this will never change.

My mother in law thinks I’m “Pro Level” though. Bless her :-)

Drm 20210123 EM530101

A completely pointless photograph, a few days ago

 

Hasselblad X1DII - so far

crazy camera, crazy money

in GAS , Thursday, January 07, 2021

Back in August, I took a big step into the photographic unknown with the purchase of a Hasselblad X1DII. In order to afford this extravagance, I sold off my Sigma sdH, several Olympus bodies, my Linhof 612 and my Voigtländer Bessa III. This allowed me to buy the X1DII body, an ex-demo refurbished 45mm f/3.5 lens, and a 90mm f/4 lens on special offer. In addition to those I got an adaptor for my 3 XPan lenses. This is far, far from a casual purchase for me, and will probably be my last major investment in camera gear.

So, do I have buyers remorse? Was it worth it?  Short answers: no, and yes, probably.

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The Hasselblad X1DII (X1D from now on) sits alongside my now somewhat reduced workhorse Olympus OM-D kit. Essentially, to earn its keep it needs to let me do things I want to do that the OM-D cannot.  Superficially this shouldn’t be very hard - after all the X1D has a huge 50 megapixel sensor against the OM-D’s small 20 megapixels. So, the average brick wall or cat should turn out much better with the X1D. Well, with some caveats - although brick walls don’t move all that much, cats do (especially our neighbour’s cat which I’ve yet to successfully drench with a bucket of water). The OM-D can, more or less, focus track. The X1D can’t. The OM-D has zillions of focus points. The X1D has considerably less. The OM-D has stabilisation, and fast lenses. The X1D has neither. And anyway, I’m not in the slightest bit interested in brick walls or cats.

So, it’s not looking good so far for the X1D. But wait…  once it does get its few ducks in a row, the output is just flat out gorgeous. It isn’t quite Portra 400 level sublime, but its the closest I’ve ever seen from a digital camera. 

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The size (especially) and weight of the X1D with 45mm f/3.5 and the OM-D E-M1 MkIII with the roughly equivalent 17mm f/1.2 lens is very close. The X1D is really remarkably compact. Of course the OM-D wins out in low light - the X1D is only about 1 stop better in noise performance, and the OM-D has on-body stabilisation.  In hand, the X1D is actually noticeably heavier, but it is very, very comfortable to hold for a lengthy period - and it has strong competition here, the E-M1 grip is so well designed I can dangle the camera from my fingertips quite safely. So from a physical ergonomics point of view, it’s close. From a user interface point of view, there’s no competition - the X1D is a very clear winner. The touchscreen-based menu system is a masterpiece. The few physical controls are well placed and easy to use, with the possible exception of the focus mode button which is a bit of stretch to reach. The primary mode of focus point selection is through the touchscreen. This is the thing I like least about the X1D. I can’t get on with this way of working when the camera is up to my eye. The E-M1 has the same mode, as an option, but I disabled it as soon as I changed the focus point with my nose for the first time.  But the E-M1’s alternative is a very convenient joystick, whereas on the X1D you have to long-press the hard-to-reach focus button, and then use the two dials. It’s not ideal.

X1d 2020 10 28 B0000193

Speaking of the viewfinder - until I used the X1D, I thought the OM-D’s EVF was perfectly ok. Now, in comparison, it looks like a 50s TV set at the end of a long tunnel. The X1D’s EVF is stunning.

My previous attempt of supplementing my “shooting envelope” was with the Sigma sd-H. This just didn’t work out. The camera is a delight, but the lenses are massive and very heavy, and of course anything over ISO 200 was risky territory. Also, the Quattro sensor has quite some eccentricities, alongside its amazing resolution. Really, the sd-H is too unwieldy for me, and I had higher expectations of the Sigma “Art” lenses after using the dp fixed lenses.  The X1D, however, is almost as comfortably as a walkaround camera as the OM-D. Of course there are limitations with lens reach, and you have to keep a close eye on the shutter speed, but it is leagues ahead of the Sigma. So from that point of view, I’m happy.

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The things that frustrate me with the OM-D are the way that background details sometimes disintegrate into a nasty mush, and a certain coarseness in colour transition in darker and lighter zones. The X1D provides huge improvements in both areas. It also brings noticeably better colour depth and accuracy, and of course detail.  The OM-D’s advantages are deeper depth of field and overall versatility. The great thing for me is that they both have the same native 4:3 ratio, and that the X1D can go to “digital XPan” mode at the flick of a switch, meaning in general I have a coherent reference for composition across 3 camera types.

So, in conclusion, there’s absolutely no buyers remorse. I have two interchangeable, fully complementary camera systems that fully cover all I want to do in photography. Was it worth it? Well, it would be, if only I had somewhere to travel to fully exploit the X1D, but that’s a general problem right now.

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Silverfast 9 bursts forth - UPDATED

just when they least expect it…

in Silverfast , Friday, December 18, 2020

A totally unexpected email popped up in my inbox yesterday, announcing the release of Silverfast 9. It’s a weird time of year to announce a new product, but Lasersoft are a weird company (I used to think of them as eccentric, which has a certain charm, but now they’re just weird, as in irritating).

I still like Silverfast. Actually, it’s chugging away now on my Mac, but only as a input provider to Negative Lab Pro. But this update… well, let’s see what’s new:

Banner silverfast9 newsletter en

So, the headline feature is a new E-Book, written by Chief Mad Scientist, Wing Commander Karl-Heinz Zahorsky. Ok. I wonder what Mark Segal thinks about that?

Then we have Innovative Design. Well, from the screenshots this appears to be a touch more lipstick, only this time also available in fashionable black. I regret my cynicism, but I very much doubt that any of the outstanding usability issues have been fixed. The actual layout looks 100% identical to Silverfast 8, with - and here we have to recognise a serious accomplishment - even uglier icons.

Next up, My SilverFast Portal.  This is apparently a web page where I can see a list of licenses I own. Awesome.

And last but very much not least, SAC - Single Archive Command. Yes, we get the obsessive Air Force reference. What this does is anybody’s guess, but it claims to be a “One-click-archiving solution”.  Basically it seems to be rearranging some existing deckchairs (auto frame finding, Job Manager, VLT), and is of use only for flatbed scanners. Also, the blurb adds, without evidence, “you too can enjoy the advantages of our scan booster with the Single Archive Command” and “75% faster with SAC”.  I have no idea why scanning speed itself should be faster with SAC, or why it should be only available through SAC. Sounds a lot like bullshit to me.

So, that’s it. Apart from some other unspecified “improvements”.

And how much does it cost? Well, as ever, Lasersift is very coy about this, making you jump through all sorts of hoops to get a price.  Here’s what I found, eventually:

Sf9price

So, the Archive Suite, which includes Ai Studio AND HDR Studio, costs less than half the upgrade price of Ai Studio alone. Ok. Whatever.  Note the “new” prices though - not sure what they’re smoking up in there in Kiel, but I want some too.  Of course, this only allows my to run SF9 on my Plustek scanner, not on my Canon scanner.  I expect I’d have to pay the same price again to have both on SF9. And I would be very unsurprised to find that trying to run SF8 for Canon and SF9 for Plustek leads to System-Fehler-Alles-Kaput.

Anyway, I suppose I’ll buy it at some point, but based on experience the initial release is likely to be a stable as one-legged Bremerhaven dock worker after a night on the schnapps.

There is one interesting thing - apparently it supports the mythical Plustek Optic Film 120 Pro.

The website is of course a total train wreck, but you can try to check out Silverfast 9 here.

UPDATE, 21st December
Well, I did buy it. Part of the rationale was that LaserSoft have been quite generous with their upgrade policy with v8.  Certainly the first 18 months or so was just bug fixing, but some useful new features were introduced in later 8.x releases, particularly the Copy/Paste settings in Job Manager.

Well, what v9 brings to the table is actually a slight improved Job Manager dialog (all it is somewhat a case of 2 steps forwards, 1 step back), and, get this, they’ve actually REDUCED the Copy/Paste functionality.  Apart from that, there is nothing new I can find apart from a bit of a visual overhaul, which doesn’t amount to much.  The “new E-book” displayed prominently in the marketing email is not included in the release, but is yours for an extra €29.99.  This is a clear case of misadvertising in my opinion.  Then again, I doubt that the content amounts to much more than self-promotion.  I’ve had a good look, but I cannot find the “new NegaFix profiles” mentioned on the website.  One new “feature” is that v9 implements internet-managed spyware licensing. Yet another thing for LaserSoft to screw up, and they surely will.

So-called HDR-Raw files produced in Silverfast Ai v9 and processed/saved in HDR v9 open fine in HDR v8, so clearly nothing significant has changed at the level of file processing.  The much vaunted “One Click Archiving” is not enabled for my Plustek Optic Film 120, even though it can take a tray of up to 10 unmounted 35mm frames (or 5 mounted), so it could potentially be useful.

So what, substantially, do you get for your money?  Maybe stability with new OS releases? A nice warm feeling that you’ve given money to that nice Mr Zahorsky & friends?  I’m afraid that’s about it.
It is still, in my opinion, the best scanning software on the market, but from a company that’s even harder to like than Adobe. And that’s quite an accomplishment.

 
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