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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Aeolian Islands gallery

Not a polar bear in sight

in Photography , Friday, August 26, 2011

On Saturday morning I’m off for two weeks to Sicily, starting with the Aegadian Islands.  Not exactly a polar destination, but life is full of compromises.  Several years ago, when I first went to Sicily, I ended up visiting the Aeolian Islands for the first time, and that kicked off a new geographic obsession for me.


I’ve just published my first gallery of photos from the Aeolian islands. I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

Aeolian Gallery



 

Lavertezzo Summer 2011

Shut up & take some photos

in Photography in Ticino , Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This is one place I can’t keep away from. Fortunately, unlike several of my other fetish locations, it is pretty close by and easy to get to. So I go often.  Usually not in summer though, but this year for one reason or another I’ve been 4 or 5 times, including some painfully early dedicated photo-trips.  Let’s just say 9am is well past packing up time.  Here are a few shots which made staggering out of bed at 5am worthwhile, at least for me.

Drm 2011 08 11 8114558



Drm 2011 08 18 8184893



Drm 2011 08 15 8154699



Drm 2011 08 11 8114582



Drm 2011 08 15 8154723



Drm 2011 08 11 8114609



Drm 2011 08 18 8184907

And of course ... I’ll be back.

 

 

Why is Vuescan struggling ?

Worth what you pay for it ?

in Unsolicited, rabid opinions , Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August 2014: Apparently this post is the most popular on my site. And by far. Which is a bit sad for both of us.  I’m tempted to take it down, but I’ll leave it for historical interest. Maybe you’ve come here to observe a bit of wild-eyed flaming of Ed Hamrick and Vuescan. Well, enjoy, but please note it is water well under the bridge, indeed we can’t even see the bridge any more. Ed & I had an email conversation and it all ended up perfectly amicable even if we agreed to disagree.  These days I sometimes use Vuescan. I took some time to understand it better, I managed to calibrate it, and when my scanner, or Silverfast, causes problems, it’s always useful to be able to fall back on Vuescan for issue solving. And if your workflow would be to take uncorrected linear gamma scans direct into Photoshop, for some reason Vuescan’s 48bit output is much more malleable than Silverfast’s 48bit “HDR”. Oh, and you might also like to see Ed’s original riposte.


Earlier today, I came across a piece of negative marketing of a type which always irritates me. This was from Ed Hamrick, of Hamrick Software, author of Vuescan, offering Silverfast users a free upgrade to Vuescan Pro if they promise never to use Silverfast again and to send him their Silverfast serial number. This is already sounding ethically dubious, and possibly worse, but then he goes on to roundly rip Silverfast to pieces, while saying what a nice guy Karl-Heinz Zahorsky, the CEO and founder of LaserSoft is. All this under the strawman banner “Why is LaserSoft struggling ?”

Now, as far as I know, LaserSoft has never engaged in such tactics. It promotes its own wares, sometimes well, sometimes less so, but it never, ever rubbishes the competition. Hamrick then follows up with a gratuitous analysis of LaserSoft’s “problems” and an “unedited list” of more than 1000 largely illiterate one-liner comments of converts to Vuescan, the majority of which seem to have very little clue of what they’re talking about - and Hamrick knows it. Frankly, these people are not Silverfast’s customer base.

Hamrick goes on to pick apart various aspects of Silverfast, and Lasersoft. Now, Lasersoft sure aren’t perfect, but if you’re going to start slinging mud, you’d better make sure of your target.  A few choice examples:

Anyone who primarly does reflective scans can buy a good printer/scanner/copier for $100, and anyone still scanning film can use the Epson V700 to do this

Sure, Ed. You’re right, and pretty much every reasonably experienced film photographer in the world is wrong. The V700 is ok. In fact, for large format it’s probably the only reasonable option. But for optimal 35mm scans ? Come on!!  And this “anyone still scanning film” ... well, yeah. Guess what. They’re using Silverfast. 

Let’s see what a in-depth review of the V700 has to say:  “Finally one can say that the Epson Perfection V700 Photo is good for digitizing normal vacation pictures and similar images even directly from the film. For applications without professional requirements the scanner is very well suitable. Professionals, whom the V700 actually addresses with the possibility to scan medium formats and large formats, won’t however be satisfied with the picture quality”.  I think I’ll skip Ed’s advice on this one.

This leads to a dilemma - the market for the scanners SilverFast supports is shrinking rapidly, and even the least expensive printer/scanner/copiers are more than good enough for 99% of reflective scanning.

Well, Hamrick may believe that “printer/scanner/copiers are more than good enough for 99% of reflective scanning”. So what ? Silverfast is designed for photographers and pre-press. Possibly there little ROI in providing a cheap enough version for casual users of all-in-one, Walmart special offer copiers. 

What can LaserSoft do, other than try to reduce costs by laying off engineers and delay new product development? It’s been 5 years since Intel Macs were introduced, and LaserSoft still hasn’t released a universal binary version of SilverFast.

Again, so what ? First, how does Hamrick know so much about LaserSoft’s business ? If they are reducing costs, they’re hardly alone.  As for the Universal Binary, up until recently it has been of no use.  LaserSoft, correctly, point out that scan times and limited by scanner performance.  So post processing may be a touch faster with a Universal Binary, but frankly I’m not convinced.  This is really typical software geekery.

The majority of LaserSoft revenues used to come from bundled software sales

I believe it still does

Epson Scan is better than SilverFast

Totally unsubstantiated wild claim. Epson Scan is better than Vuescan!!!

Canon sells many more printer/scanner/copiers than high-end flatbed scanners

Yes, Ed, you’ve made it clear that you’ve missed the point. Stop digging.

Plustek and Reflecta scanners aren’t very good

Really. Why do you support them then ? And pro photographers such as Mark Segal beg to differ. Have they turned down your bundling offer ?

VueScan is a 5 MByte download, SilverFast 8 is a 170 MByte download

Well yes… but that does include the video guides and documentation. Documentation, Ed. Heard of it ? I haven’t downloaded Silverfast 8 yet, but Silverfast 6 is around 25Mb. Bigger than Vuescan, yes, but there’s quite a lot more in it.

It goes on, and quite frankly is astonishing. Did Zahorsky run over his dog or something ?  But anyway, we finally get on to this little claim:

VueScan produces better scans

Well, now I’m listening. Especially as I’m a licensed Vuescan user. I gave up at around version 5, where the appaling UI and bizarre behaviour finally drove me away. So let’s see if Version 9 has improve things. Honestly, if it gives better results, I’m not proud.

The Test

So, I downloaded Vuescan 9, although I had a bit of trouble getting past a website which insisted on pushing “Vuescan Mobile” at me. Let the customer decide, Ed, please.

First impressions were pretty familiar. It’s still got a design only a geek could love, full of weird UI elements and oddities. But at least they line up and the labels don’t overflow any more.

First run: although it did find my networked multi-mode printer/scanner, it failed to find my USB connected Canoscan 9000F. After a relaunch, it found my Minolta film scanner as well. It never did find the Canon. Probably because it’s not a “printer/scanner/copier”.

I went to pick up my old serial code, and entered it. It didn’t work, but that was just a guess really, because I got no feedback. Ok, so I need to get an updated serial number. Fine. That worked, well enough, but the user experience has already deviated well away from smooth. I wonder if the average printer/scanner/copier user would have worked it out ?

Ok, fine. Let me at those awesome results.  I loaded up a slide.  And clicked on “Preview”.  And Vuescan, way off in a little corner, tells me it is “Calibrating”.  I wait for minute or so, then it shows Busy 0%, eventually after, 2 minutes or so it shows Busy 100%. This goes on for a while. It starts again: Busy 0 to 100% another 2-3 minutes. No attempt to tell me what is going on, and no attempt to show a standard system activity bar.  During this time the application is locked up. And then it starts again - busy 0%.  What is it doing, calibrating R, G & B channels ? No idea. Anyway, the claim of “speed” is already wearing thin. Nope, not RGB, because it’s started again. And again.

Finally, a dialog. Please insert the film holder. So I did. But the scanner does not grab it. There’s something not right here.  Everything locks up. Great. I shut down the scanner, force quit Vuescan. And try again. I’m tenacious.

It starts up again, can’t find the Minolta. Shut down. Starts up again, finds Minolta. Finally I get it do a prescan.  It contrives to make the usually quiet-ish Minolta sound like a garbage truck in a tin can factory. Very noisy AF, very noisy prescan and no faster than Silverfast.

The prescan area is too big, which reminds me I’ve always been very suspicious of Vuescan’s handling of the Minolta’s hi-res area (4800dpi for a 35mm strip, 3200 for 120 film).  Using the Scanhancer, it seems there’s no way to get a decent preview, which Silverfast has no trouble with.  Also, nothing approaching Silverfast’s tuning tools. Not even remotely. However, there is one big plus, potentially: the option to use Multi Exposure at the same time as Multi Scanning (which Lasersoft have always said is of little benefit).

Vuescan Preview

Vuescan preview

Silverfast preview

Silverfast preview


I eventually found the “advanced” settings. Not exactly intuitive, but well at least that’s consistent. And I get things set up as I want, and start a scan. Is it faster ? No, of course it isn’t: scan time is scanner limited. Output is very dark, very compressed histogram. However shadows are exceptionally clean - although later when I ran the same slide through Silverfast, it was equally good.

The UI remains exceedingly clunky and uninspiring, and if Silverfast 6 has its annoyances, VueScan just responds with a different set. Some things, for examplre setting preferences, are marginally more simple with Vuescan, but other things, for example prescan colour correction, or manual focus, are way, way worse.

Vuescan’s web site features testimonials from Smart Computing, PC World, Computer Shopper, Mac Guild, etc. Although to be fair Amateur Photographer praised it highly. But Silverfast features reviews by pro photographers such as Mark Segal (who was complimentray about the Plustec scanner which Hamrick dismisses), John Barclay, Timothy Grey, etc. No PC geeks here.

I could probably could make Vuescan work for me, especially if I invested in Sascha Steinhoff’s book.  Vuescan is not bad. For a casual user it’s a better investment than Silverfast, which in its consumer, dumbed down mode is too complex for the target market but also too light on features. VueScan is much cheaper. For advanced users it can also deliver scans just as good as Silverfast. Probably. But it will make you work much harder and it is missing all the refinements of Silverfast.  Generally I’d say there’s a pretty even split out there between Silverfast and Vuescan fans.

But it’s the negative, dishonest marketing that really leaves a bad taste. Another Hamrick quote is “they don’t ask for my advice, and free advice is worth what you pay for it”. Is a free Vuescan upgrade worth what you pay for it too ? So what is this Vuescan upgrade free ? Why such aggressive marketing ? Why is Vuescan struggling ?

I wouldn’t cut off my nose to spite my face if Vuescan really was better,  but the fact is I’ve had years of great results, friendly support and trouble free operation from Silverfast, and I’m not going to switch.  Silverfast has lots of flaws, and probably it is a touch too expensive. But frankly, looking at similar image products from, say, Adobe, or Nik, it certainly isn’t outrageously priced. And personally I don’t find that an annual price-gouging upgrade to be a benefit.

 

 

 

Travels in HDR

with NIK HDR Efex Pro

in Photography , Sunday, August 21, 2011

I’ve always been pretty suspicious of HDR. When Photoshop originally turned up with “merge to HDR” in CS2, I certainly tried it out, but was unable to get anything but the most ghastly results. Certainly nothing that could persuade me that it was a better technique for dealing with high contrast than masking two exposures. Where HDR has been highly and successfully exposed, through sites such as Trey Ratcliffe’s “Stuck in Customs”, all I can say is “de gustibus non est disputandum” - it doesn’t appeal to my tastes, but I can recognise that it can be a valid artistic decision.

However (funny how my second paragraphs often start off with “however”), I have carried on fiddling about with now and again, and have evaluated a fair number of software tools. I finally decided to take the plunge, and buy Nik HDR Efex Pro. Partly because I like Nik software in general, but mainly based on what I could see on Jason Odells, “Luminescence of Nature” web site.  Odell, along with Tony Sweet, shows a series of “natural” HDR landscapes which are far more to my taste than Ratcliffe’s ultravividity, and started to convince me that maybe HDR can be worthwhile.

So, early one morning last week I set off to try it out in practice.  I wanted to see if HDR could provide me with a more satisfying image in a situation where contrast was high, but still just about manageable in a single exposure.

First, here is the single exposure which I find the most acceptable (Olympus E-3, f/11, 0.6s at 1SO 100, +0.3ev):

Lavertezzo, single exposure

Next, an HDR image from HDR Efex Pro, using 5 exposures at 1ev intervals, starting with HDR Efexs’s default setting, and adding a little “structure” and 10 points on the “Method strength” slider:

Lavertezzo, HDR

The differences are not that huge. First of all, I think that the HDR image remains credible, which is the first hurdle.  It also shows more tonal detail in the mid-tones and shadows (the submerged stones, for example). However, it also slightly exaggerates the highlights.  Well, seeing as this was only my second attempt, using a software package with a vast array of adjustments and options, I would say it holds some promise.

The application itself is very nicely done. Easily the best HDR application I’ve tried in terms of ease of use and general workflow. The inclusion of Nik’s U-Point system for targeted local adjustments is a unique selling point, and a very effective tool.

I doubt that I’m going to turn into an HDR maven - although I must confess that I can’t deny a certain cheap thrill sometimes in turning all the sliders up to 11 - but in some circumstances it looks like it can add clear value to the end result.

 

 

 

Olympus E-3 Diffraction

shocking, really

in Olympus E-System , Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Further to my recent mental hand-wringing about diffraction, I decided to try a little self-education. The following video shows a sequence of shots at increasing f-stop of a convenient wall in my garden (I understand walls are in fact necessary for this sort of exercise. Or cats. But they move too much. And I prefer walls).

The camera is the Olympus E-3 firmly bolted to a tripod, lens is the 12-60 set at 33mm.

Even with various levels of compression screwing around with the results, I think it is pretty clear that the image quality starts off ok, improves towards f/8, stays ok-ish until f/11, and then dramatically collapses.  This is, of course, what is supposed to happen, but bearing in mind the old film-era advice of “crank it up to f/22” it is pretty scary.

diffraction test   on Vimeo.

No sharpening done, just standard Aperture conversion of the RAW files.

 
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