photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Tetris Round 2

in Olympus E-System , Saturday, May 20, 2006

Following Bernard's comment to the previous article, I tried giving RAW Developer and CaptureOne a better chance. Here is the IRD version, using the new R-L deconvolution sharpening (aside, I wonder if this is what FocusFixer uses ?), set at radius 1, iterations 10, as Bernard suggests. Noise reduction is off: red_ird2.jpg It's certainly better, but I wouldn't say that the Tetris effect is gone, exactly. I was unfair to CaptureOne, as I'd left "pattern noise suppression", designed precisely for this problem, switched off. So here it is switched on, with my standard light capture sharpening (amount 10, threshold 1, standard look) and noise suppression off. Everything else is left to defaults. red_c1_2.jpg Well, it is better than before, and actually setting noise suppression up a bit helps even more. But it is still there. NOTE: in both cases, the JPG compression on these images is artificially enhancing the effect, but about 20%. Finally, does it matter if you can't see it on a print ? Generally speaking, no. In 99% of cases, no. But it can limit the scope for enlargements, and since resolution is not the E-1's strongest feature, it is worth considering. It still seems for absolute quality, Olympus Studio is best, but with a lot of caveats. Raw Developer seems to be about at the level of CaptureOne, and at a considerably lower price, with a much more dynamic release schedule, it looks like a very worthy candidate. But CaptureOne is still my first choice. Until further notice.

The Great Tetris Challenge

in Olympus E-System , Thursday, May 18, 2006

This is just a quick post, prompted by the release of Iridient RawDeveloper 1.5, and various writings over at the lair of the auspicious dragon... This is NOT a test. I try things out, but I don't test them. I rarely read the instructions properly, I am not methodic, and I get bored quickly, so for < INSERT DEITY OF CHOICE HERE >'s sake, take it with an enormous pinch of salt. Anyway, since I was one of the first to spot the famous Tetris effect which showed up E-1 RAW files developed in some software, back in early 2004, I continue to take some interest in the topic. Since Iridient RAW Developer (IRD from now on) is quite well rated by many, including me, I decided to see how well the new version, 1.5, deals with the issue. The task I gave it, and others, was to render a lone poppy captured in a field in the Marches region of Italy some time ago, and which featured in a previous post: red_poppies.jpg Not too challenging, although it is a touch over exposed, and is only vaguely acquainted with the concept of "in focus". Here, without further fanfare, is how IRD, CaptureOne Pro v3.7.4, Adobe Camera Raw v3.3 and Olympus Studio v1.5 coped. Please ignore the colours. I did back off the exposure a bit, but I certainly didn't bother with anything else. Sharpening is application default in all cases. First up, RAW Developer 1.5 red_rd_15.jpg Ouch. Let's see how the Danish entry performs: CaptureOne Pro 3.7.4, come on down. red_c1_473.jpg Hmm. Danemark, nulle points. (for readers who don't get that, substitute "Ouch"). Back of the classroom for C1. Ok, how does Thomas Knoll's meisterwerk manage ? Over to you, Adobe Camera RAW 3.3 red_acr_33.jpg A bit better, I think, but what gives with these blotches ? Just for fun, let's see how iPhoto, and hence CoreImage, and hence, sort of, maybe, Apple Aperture would manage; red_iphoto.jpg Hmm. A bit pink, Steve, but once you get over that, look, no Tetris! (Later edit: and look at those strange edge effects. iPhoto sharpening I suppose) Finally, over to the Great Ninja itself, Olympus Studio 1.5 red_olys_15.jpg As expected, no Tetris here (the colour is pretty much spot on too...) So... what ? Well obviously if I was exclusively printing photos of poppies at 200% (did I mention they're all at 200% ? No ? Ok, they're all at 200%), I'd obviously not be straying too far from ACR (or Studio if I had infinite time on my hands). I'm pretty much a CaptureOne fanboy, and whilst clearly one needs to keep an eye on things when their is a lot of red about, it still floats my boat. What I don't like about C1 is the enforced organisation of files into sessions, and IRD actually is extremely (even rashly) flexible in that area. It is actually far easier to use IRD with iView MediaPro as the catalog / browser than it is to use C1 in that way, despite industry alliances. I'll probably stick with CaptureOne for now, mainly because I'm stubborn, but also because I find there's a little too much knob twiddling potential in IRD, and some of it is a touch opaque. For example, it is very nice having two extremely clever sound new sharpening methods, but just a few paragraphs of explanation to go with them, especially on the sliders, would be a comfort. And in Studio, there isn't enough knob twiddling (no black point adjustment, for example), and the inscrutability of some of the controls certainly reinforces cultural stereotypes. As for the usability, and did I mention the lack of EXIF in 16 bit TIFFs ? Oh yeah, I did... Well, both stink. So, as far as the Tetris effect goes, it looks like Olympus Studio remains the boss.

How many Megabucks is that camera ?

in Product reviews , Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I was initially going to post this on the Luminous Landscape forum, in this topic. But finally, it didn't seem appropriate... A recently posted article compares the technical performance of a series of digital camera systems ranging from extremely expensive to jaw-droppingly, c'mon, you're kidding, expensive. The article is perfectly ok as far as it goes (actual it is very boring, but whatever, some people will like it), but there is a wider context. In discussion, in response to a poster who says he's happy sticking with 35mm (I suspect he means the very expensive EOS 1Ds, but anyway) Michael Reichmann, the author, statest that "Many thousands of photographers around the world aren't spending their hard earned money on these tools just on the off chance that they may provide [i]slightly[/i] better images" Well, many thousands of photographers - pros too - around the world are also doing wonderful work with old, obsolete, film cameras (and digicams for that matter). And these may often represent a very considerable amount of [B]their[/B] hard earned money. I don't really know how to express this without coming across as envious (I'm not) or insulting (really not my intent), but as far as I can see the return on investment on these uber-systems, especially in from a fine art point of view, is extremely low. They don't take better pictures, just bigger ones. I always understood that the Luminous Landscape website was mainly aimed at people coming from an artistic perspective, rather than commercial (for want of a better divide). A 5 figure digital mega-system may make perfect sense in a commercial context, but is it really the case that without it, one cannot aspire to make good photography ? I know the answer to this should be "no", but this is not the message I'm getting either from the LL site or indeed the Video Journal DVD in recent months. The message I'm seeing is "if you can't afford this stuff, you're out of this league". It's interesting to see high end stuff - sometimes - and I'm not knocking the article, especially as I haven't read it. But unless the audience of the Luminous Landscape is going to be an exclusive set of millionaires and highly succesful pros, then maybe it might be a good idea to get back to basics now and then. There's nothing terribly educational about saying that a 39Mp back makes very high resolution photos. I could work that out for myself... Some sense of perspective would be nice. I have a good income, above the national average where I live, and a lot of (no, far too much of) my spare income goes into photography, but I could never afford an EOS 1Ds, let alone a 39Mpix back. And I know at least one person who is semi-pro and quite widely published (and extremely talented), who could not even afford a 30D. Somebody wrote recently, I think it was J.C Bechet in Reponses Photo, that a few years ago, it was actually possible for the average person to at least aspire to top end cameras, like Leicas or medium format Hasselblads, Rolleis, Fujis etc. Nowadays the gap is so huge, that on the one hand there is the mass market, topping out at entry level DSLRs, then a yawning chasm, with maybe the odd, but still very expensive midrange offering from Canon or Nikon, then the foothills of the unattainable, then the Himalaya of the wealthy and top professional. Who is catering for, or even tempting, the "serious amateur" these days ? It seems to be a rapidly dwindling sector. It must also impact on fine art photographers, who, in the past, could maybe justify their outlay by selling 20 prints a year, With costs multiplying by a factor of 10, how are they going to make numbers add up in the future ? I can't honestly see that 120 format film is going to around for much longer. It doesn't take much to imagine that there will be a growing perception that if a photo is made using one of these top end systems, it isn't "art". Driven by marketing, and by the often influential owners of these systems, the "fine art" market could well end up owned by an elitist set, who are not necessarily there by virtue of talent (although I'm not claiming any lack of talent by the authors of the article). Maybe I'm over-reacting. I hope so, but I'm far from sure....

The inflexibility of infinite options

in Olympus E-System , Monday, May 15, 2006

This is a diatribe about getting locked into RAW converters. Take it with an even larger pinch of salt than usually recommend for my rants. Yes, I know: RAW liberates us. We can fix anything in the mix. We can change the exposure, change the colour balance, obtain radically different versions of the same source. How very unlike film, where most of these parameters are set in stone the moment we press the shutter. With RAW, we can keep our options open. This is not a bad thing. Far from it, but there is another side to the coin of infinite choice - infinite options. What, exactly, is the image we have captured ? When we print a processed file, this is just one of these variants. Again, this is nothing new. The same could be said of printing from a negative. But in the case of a negative, we have one negative and many prints, a fairly easy combination to manage. With RAW, we have any number of variants from the RAW converter, various post-processed versions of each of these in Photoshop, and the prints. How do we trace a print back to the source ? And this assumes just one RAW converter, whereas for most if not all formats, there are many choices. For Olympus E-1 ORFs, there are two converters from Olympus, two from Adobe, CaptureOne, Bibble, RAW Developer, Pixmantec, Silkypix, and more obscure options such as Silverfast. There are probably at least 15 options. Most people have their favourite, but there seems to be general agreement that there are merits to using several. There is a basic difference between a RAW file and a "traditional" file such as TIFF or PSD: RAW files are never touched. RAW converters record a list of settings which, when applied to the RAW, are used to create an output file. Different applications use different strategies to store these settings. Some, like Adobe Camera RAW, or Olympus Studio, save a separate file for each image. Others, like CaptureOne, have a concept of a session, and store all settings for all images in the session in a sesssion folder, managed by a session file. Most, if not all, at least try to impose their own organisation solution on you, CaptureOne in particular. The latest idea, embodied in Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom, is to hide all this complexity from the user in a database-indexed file structure. In any case, what this means is that any work you do on a RAW image prior to converting it to a "fixed" format is essentially invisible outside of the converter environment it was created in. I cannot open a RAW file adjusted in CaptureOne in Lightroom and expect to see the effect of the adjustments (although when I first used Lightroom I was sufficiently flummoxed by the default settings to think that it was applying them!). I cannot browse a catalogue of RAW images in an application such as iView Media Pro and see any effect of such adjustments - even in the case of CaptureOne, which benefits from strong cross-marketing with iView. In fact, iView & PhaseOne have had to come up with some laughably convoluted suggested workflows to try to convince us that their association currently is anything other than marketing. So, in the past, when I could manage by digital assets from raw scan onwards in one place, now I cannot, and since there is a shift towards adjusting images prior to RAW conversion rather than afterwards, much of the power of a Digital Asset Management application is lost. In fact, if you want to use two or three alternative converters, then really you're on the road to Chaos City. Aperture can, and so we're told, Lightroom will, offer to sort all this out for us by integrating an end-to-end workflow, from RAW through to print. Aperture has some excellent ideas in the versioning, sorting and management front, and I daresay Lightroom will get around to copying, er, sorry integrating them soon. This is all well and good, providing you can meet two conditions: 1: you're starting with a blank slate 2: you're perfectly happy with the built-in RAW converter and always will be The first condition makes the reasonable assumption that once you've chosen a management solution, you don't want to use another one. However, say you have 10,000 RAW files currently in CaptureOne sessions. Either you're going to essentially treat them as history, and manage only the processed output files, thus throwing away the benefits of RAW, or you're going to have to bring them in to Aperture, one by one, and reapply settings to all of them - which, of course, are anyway going to take on a different characteristic to CaptureOne. This is a major pain, but I suppose it isn't a showstopper. The second, though, is more dangerous. For any pro or serious amateur photographer, a digital catalogue is a vital tool. These integrated tools offer great catalog functions, and you could soon be managing large libraries within them, discarding iView or Portfolio or Cumulus. But... what are going to do when iView launch MediaCapture 5, the fully integrated iView/PhaseOne tool which, all reviewers agree, offers outstanding, un-rivalled RAW conversion, with beautiful colour and detail ? Spend 6 months migrating ? Only to come back out of your computer room, haggard and blinking, to read news of Adobe's new Lightroom 8, which kills MediaCapture stone dead ? In the midst of the hype surrounding Lightroom and the associated, way over the top, vicious kicking of Aperture, raising these issues just opens me up to ridicule and insults on various forums. We shall see. Much as I would love to use either of these tools (and I do use Lightroom at present for LX-1 RAW), I am very wary of getting locked in. I'm sure companies like Extensis and iView are aware of both the problem and opportunity of the plethora of RAW converters, and I hope they'll come up with a solution - honestly, I'd find it much more useful if iView managed CaptureOne sessions rather than fonts - where RAW developers are essentially recast as plugins. Maybe we'll even seen a portable metadata standard format emerge, but I'm not holding my breath. There isn't really a solution to all this yet, unless it is to select one RAW converter and stick with it, or to accept that cataloging starts after the RAW conversion (more or less my current approach). Beware of integrated solutions. Mark my words, or surely thy Doom awaits.