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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

HDR with film

true grit

in Film , Sunday, September 25, 2011

I took a set of XPan frames of a scene in Iceland back in 2009, with the express purpose of seeing if I could make an HDR composite from them, and get the gritty, high contrast, low saturation “grim up north” look so beloved of brands such as 66 North.

There are 3 exposures, one “normal”, one 1 stop below, one 1 stop above. I decided to try running them through Nik HDR Efex (NHE from now on).  On the first try I fell at the first hurdle. Although NHE has an auto-align feature, it cannot cope with input images with different sizes. Since I had tidied the scans up a bit, they were all slightly different.

Xpan iceland 280409 1b

The 0EV (middle) exposure

So I rescanned all three using exactly the same size, and tried again. Unfortunately, it is absolutely impossible to get three completely independent scans exactly aligned, so alignment was still required. At least now they were the same size. So, back into NHE. The input processing takes something like 15 minutes or more with these large images, but again the results were hopeless. The alignment was completely off.

So I decided to try pre-aligning with Photoshop’s Auto Align. This worked fine, very well in fact. So having nearly perfectly aligned images, I fed them back into NHE. And 15 minutes later, NHE mangled them way out of alignment. Back to the drawing board. I turned off “alignment” in NHE, and gave it another go. This time it worked, or well enough.  In terms of alignment there are still some artifacts at 100% zoom but for smaller viewing sizes it works.

So then it was off to fiddling with the wide range of settings in NHE, and eventually I got something close to what I wanted.

Xpan iceland 280409 1 HDR

The HDR look: Somewhere grim in the Westfjords

However, with film as the input, NHE makes grain explode. I had to do a lot of cleaning up, especially in the sky, and the results are most certainly gritty.

It would probably have been a lot easier to do it with digital, but there is a rather unique look coming out of film here, and have got a process that sort of works, I might try refining it.

 

Gear Malaise

Looking for retail therapy

, Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Every now and then my thoughts turn to new cameras. Although I certainly keep up with a fair sampling of camera pr0n sites, I don’t really get caught up much in day to day gear lust these days. There’s very little that excites me, and most new releases nowadays are 90% marketing and 5% rehash. Look at the Olympus E-P3 for example: a smoke & mirrors AF system (well, actually no mirror, but whatever) and a new screen which isn’t actually much of a step forward. Yawn.

What ails me now is more of a gear malaise.

I’m not even vaguely under the illusion that a different camera would make me a better photographer, but I do wonder if maybe there is some scope for making more of my opportunities.

I’ve got lots of cameras. On the film side I’ve got a full Hasselblad XPan system, which hopefully will last many more years. On the digital side, I’ve got the Olympus E-System, with E-3 and E-400 bodies and a full set of mid to high range lenses, several of which are widely considered to be top of their class. I’ve got a Micro Four Thirds system for casual use, and finally a Ricoh GRD for when I’m feeling minimal. And they all get used.

It’s the E-System which seems the weak point. This is what I use for “serious” photography, and it fits the bill - up to a point. The E-3 body is a fantastic tool and an excellent piece of engineering - albeit without the “inspiring” feel of the E-1. The 12-60 and 50-200 lenses are gorgeous. But there’s no getting around the image quality issues. It isn’t bad - in fact in many situations it is more than adequate - but it has relatively narrow dynamic range, relatively poor high ISO performance (offset by a very, very good image stabilisation system), and relatively low resolution. Relative to what? Well, almost all the competition, sadly. The question of course, is does it make a real difference ?

There are a lot of arguments in favour of sticking with the E-System. I’m very attached to the 4:3 aspect ratio; I originally went for this because of it’s close match to the 645 format of the unfulfilled object of my lust, the Pentax 645. I’ve invested over 8 years of time & money in this system, and I’m very familiar with it. Again, and always, those Zuiko Digital lenses.

Then of course there’s a big argument against. Although rumours of an E-50 are floating about, there is a very strong possibility that the E-5 could be the last of the line.

So what about camera envy? Well by and large, and on the basis of real world experience with friends using top end Canon and Nikon systems, I don’t really suffer from it. There’s something about Canon cameras that doesn’t appeal to me, and Nikon is like a foreign country. I could not make head nor tail of a D700 I picked up, wanting to take a quick shot. But there is one .... the Sony A900. That is close to nirvana. Huge sensor, huge viewfinder, and crammed full of Minolta DNA. Back in the old days I really, really admired the Minolta Dynax 7 & 9, and the A900 is a direct descendant of these. And then there are those Zeiss lenses.

And then there would be the crippling invoice. I don’t even dare to think how much it would cost to build up an A900 based system with the range of my Olympus setup.

And the A900 has a fairly big drawback, in that it doesn’t have Live View and a hinged screen like the E-3. It looses out in versatility, but the trade offs are pretty attractive.

Of course there is another option: the Olympus E-5. It’s practically identical to the E-3, and has the same basic 12mp sensor as the E-P2, but according to reviews, it manages to extract a remarkable amount of detail and finally matches the potential of those lenses. It sounds good, but then again, it’s very incremental, quite expensive, and probably not the quantum leap I’m looking for.

The MFT system is ok, but has certain serious drawbacks, as I’ve mentioned, and doesn’t seem to be likely to accomodate an f2.8 200mm in the forseeable future. It’s good for wide to short telephoto focal lengths, but not longer.

And then of course there’s the fact that to the average viewer none of these amounts to much. World-class photography can be done on most systems.

And yet, I have this gear malaise…

 

Lavertezzo panoramico

open wide

in Photography in Ticino , Tuesday, September 20, 2011

And some more Lavertezzo.  XPan this time, (very) early one day in August.  It isn’t an obvious location for the panoramic format, in fact this session is the first that I’ve managed to get some halfway satisfying shots from. Usually, outside of winter it is more or less impossible due to the amount of people swarming around.  In fact, in this case, a couple had actually camped out on the rocks. Fortunately they were still asleep. Or at least lying down.

Anyway, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…

Xpan verzasca1108 05 01
Xpan verzasca1108 01 02
Xpan verzasca1108 03 08
Xpan verzasca1108 01 08
Xpan verzasca1108 04 03
 

Vuescan is NOT struggling

The other side of the coin

in Scanning , Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Following my recent tirade against Vuescan, Ed Hamrick, the creator and publisher of the application, took the time to defend his point of view rather than just completely ignoring me. It’s only fair to reproduce his message in full:

Hi David,

So, apparently my posting on SilverFast struck a nerve? Business isn’t bean-bag - and competition can be brutal. Yes, I know it offends the sensitive :) but that’s life.

If you’re vaguely interested, VueScan isn’t struggling.  My free upgrade offer is going strongly, and I’m selling $3M per year of VueScan licenses.  It’s a good business.

And you dismiss the one-line comments people make about SilverFast.  It’s actually quite interesting.  Every one of the comments in the list of 1000 comments came from someone
who had actual experience using SilverFast and instead deciced to buy VueScan.  People really, really dislike SilverFast - it’s hard to use, the bizarre three-letter and four letter acronyms aren’t helpful, the blizzard of icons in the user interface are non-intuitive, and they’re really dumb with their pricing.

I actually read the comments, and personally pay very close attention to my user’s criticisms of VueScan.  I answer every e-mail from a customer personally.

I get approached all the time with bundling offers.  Plustek wrote to me last week to get pricing for a bundling deal.  They’ve approached me every year for 4 years They don’t like SilverFast either.  However, bundling is a stupid business strategy and I don’t do it.  I might offer free bundling to Plustek just to help drive LaserSoft out of business, but LaserSoft really isn’t much of a competitor.

And yes, most of the scanner market is well-served by MFP’s.

My web site doesn’t push VueScan Mobile at all - it’s below the fold and only comes up if you come to the page from an iPhone or iPad.

You’d be amazed how many grateful letters I get every day from people saying thanks that they don’t have to use SilverFast any more.

You ask why I have the free upgrade offer?  It’s simple, it’s a way to help drive LaserSoft out of business. That’s why I’m considering offering free bundling deals to anyone currently bundling SilverFast.

At least your review of VueScan was somewhat fair (although you made some trivially simple mistakes because you were hell-bent on finding problems).  You might also try a shorter USB cable.  Many of the cables shipped with Minolta scanners have gone bad over the years and problems with high-speed programs (like VueScan) can be solved with a new USB cable.  SilverFast 6 doesn’t have
these problems because they’re using Rosetta because they’re a PowerPC application and slow (and come on, Intel Macs were released 6 years ago).

Some guy named Erik Vlietinck at it-enquirer.com , who’s a complete witless incompetent, made a review of VueScan vs. SilverFast where he claimed that VueScan did a preview at half the speed of SilverFast.  When I posted a comment that perhaps he was using a higher resolution
preview than VueScan, and that he could solve this with the “Input | Preview resolution” option, he deleted my comment to his review and deleted my user name.  What a weasel.

Let’s see if you have the balls to post my response.  I doubt that you do :)

Regards,
Ed Hamrick

I don’t really want to get into a further argument here. I probably went over the top in my original post, but I was genuinely annoyed at what seemed to be, at least to some extent, a serious and unprovoked case of a pot calling a kettle black…  So, I’m feeling a bit guilty, but I’m used to it.

But one thing I will say: I didn’t go out of my way to try to find fault with Vuescan. If it worked better for me than Silverfast, well, I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face.  But it didn’t.  I’d say they’ve both reached the boundary of what can be achieved at this level.  It must add that Ed misunderstood my connection issue - it was the Canoscan that Vuescan couldn’t find, not the Minolta. True, I didn’t put any effort into debugging it, but then again, with Silverfast it just works and always has.

Finally it comes down to individual preferences, and I’m more comfortable with Silverfast. But… consider that I chose Olympus over Canikon, Mac over PC, Aperture over Lightroom ... I tend not to go with the flow. Vuescan is vastly popular and by all accounts deserves to be.  But neither Silverfast, nor the Laserscan people, are the Evil Empire.  There’s a fine line between marketing and dishonesty, and few companies can truly say they’ve never, ever crossed it.

I don’t want Lasersoft to be driven out of business. I’ve spent years using and learning how to get the most out of the software, and for me it is ultra-reliable and enjoyable to use.  So, hopefully, Ed can enjoy his well earned $3M and leave the scraps to the competition… and let naive idiots like me subsidize them.

 

Gremlins

the moment your back is turned…

in Site Admin , Sunday, September 11, 2011

At some point when I was away in the last two weeks, and certainly later than August 30th, this site went down due to a very strange issue, which I have, for now, fixed, but without understanding it.

In the unlikely event that anybody actually tried to access it (I don’t get a lot of visitors…) I apologise, and in the even more unlikely event that anybody could give me an idea of when this started happening (no way was I paying criminal data roaming fees to check every day) I’d be very grateful.  I noticed on Thursday September 8th, but I couldn’t do much about it with just an iPhone and a very bad, as well as expensive, data connection.

 

 
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