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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Street Photography

from a sociopath’s perspective

in Photography , Friday, October 26, 2012

I don’t do street photography. At least not street photography with people in it. And I don’t do portraits. I’m just hopeless at people photography - I have neither the skills, nor the wish, to photograph people. And so when somebody asks me to photograph their birthday party - because I take photos, I must have a really good camera, etc - as happened today, I find the offence caused by refusing is less than the disappointment I’d cause if I accepted.

Weirdly though, the vast number of photography-related blogs I visit and subscribe to are mainly run by “people photographers”. I just find them more stimulating. There seems to be a lot more inventiveness, a lot more pushing the boundaries than in landscape, or “places” photography, where really there two camps - the romantic landscape, the “fine art photographers”, and the deadpan “post-modern” stuff. Why this is I don’t know. Perhaps there is less scope, or attraction, in pushing the look and texture in landscape, and more in finding new approaches to composition and viewpoint. Of course there’s the Flickr all-sliders-on-11 + extra contrast “style”, and, puke, HDR, but those are just failures of aesthetic judgement, not inventiveness.

There’s also a lot less gear talk on the “people” side, although there’s still plenty. The main difference is that there it’s pretty much all Fuji these days, as opposed to Canikon or very big, very expensive toys.

If there are any active, truly compelling blogs run by predominantly landscape photographers, I’ve yet to find them. But I’m open to suggestions.

Drm 2012 10 13 A131355

I don’t do street photography but I couldn’t resist this. Como, Italy, Olympus E-P3 with 45mm f/1.8 lens. Probably should be black and white - and taken with a Fuji - to really qualify as “street”

Here’s a few of the blogs I subscribe to:


Now this doesn’t mean I don’t like, admire and appreciate many landscape photographers. Of course I do. A large proportion of the few friends I have are landscape photographers. But they don’t tend to have much really interesting to write about. Maybe they just let the photos do the talking. Maybe we’re all sociopaths.

 

Obsolesence

Old is the new New

in Olympus E-System , Tuesday, October 23, 2012

For a variety of reasons, the other day I decided to bring my Olympus E-400 out of retirement and give it an outing.

I’ve hardly used it since I bought the E-3 in 2010, but before then it got quite heavy use - it still carries the scars. Ironically, the E-400 was described by Amateur Photographer back then as the “digital OM”. At 385g I think it’s lighter than the OM-D. In terms of dimensions it isn’t far from the E-P1/2/3 series. It was by some margin the smallest DSLR on the market, and caused quite a stir by reverting to the “old SLR” style body without a huge protruding grip. Nevertheless it is comfortable to carry, and with the two lightweight kit lenses that came with it - which certainly are not “lightweight” in terms of optical quality - it was, and perhaps still is, a killer travel camera. Another thing which is quite a big deal to some is that it was the last Olympus camera with a Kodak sensor, albeit a different architecture to the one in the E-1.

For some reason, possibly limited sensor supplies, the E-400 was not sold in the USA. In any case it was quite quickly replaced by the Live View-enabled E-410, with a Panasonic sensor, itself soon retired in favour of a very similar E-420, and finally the Walmart Special E-450. Olympus never seemed entirely sure who to market the E-4xx series at. Of course the E-400 has its drawbacks, and many would place the allegedly “dim, narrow” optical viewfinder high on the list. Well everybody is entitled to their opinion, but I find the viewfinder quite pleasant, especially with the optional magnifying eyepiece. Frankly, in many situations it is nicer to use than the Electronic EVF-2 for the Pen series.

The old 3 point AF module has its limitations, but even so, it is fast and precise, and perfectly ok for the “focus and recompose” method. Basically as a walk-around, relatively discrete camera it still does the job. It doesn’t handle all that well with bigger lenses - the dedicated 14-45 and 40-150 are fine of course, so is the 50mm f/2, and at a push the 14-54 or 11-22, but anything heavier is uncomfortable. Of course the camera isn’t weatherproof, although it doesn’t seem to mind the odd drop of rain.

All this is a lengthy preamble to a few photos I took today on a lunchtime wander, with the 50mm macro. Actually I wanted to see how it would stack up to the Ricoh GRD in macro mode. The Ricoh is great, potentially, but actually quite awkward to focus in many macro situations. But that comparison will have to wait. I was also stimulated by Pekka Pokta’s review of the new m.Zuiko 60mm macro, which he doesn’t seem to find significantly better than the 50mm. The next step will be to try the 50mm on the E-P3, to see how it compares with E-400. I suspect the veteran might put up a good fight.

Fungi. Olympus E-400, Zuiko 50mm f/2, processed in Iridient RAW Developer

Odyssey. Olympus E-400, Zuiko 50mm f/2, processed in Iridient RAW Developer

Some plant. Olympus E-400, Zuiko 50mm f/2, processed in Iridient RAW Developer

The deficiencies in these photos are entirely down to poor technique, insipid composition and lack of creativity. They have nothing to do with the camera, and no “improvement” in resolution, dynamic range, or - at a stretch, low-light noise - would make any substantive difference. I would doubtless have made largely the same photos with a brand new state of the art Nikon D800, although my arms and shoulders would have ached more. I might have done something more interesting with the fungi using the E-5, with its Live View and orientable screen, but their we’re looking at handling improvements (which the aforementioned Nikon completely lacks), not pixel-peeping features. I’m not saying that older cameras like the E-400 don’t have their limitations, of course they do. But my opinion, and experience, is that these have very little impact on the final result, in the general case. So does this mean I don’t lust after new gear? Of course not. But perhas it brings me a step closer to discriminating between photography and retail therapy. And there’s more long lasting satisfaction in the former.

 

Venice, monochrome

also appearing on 500px!

in Hasselblad XPan , Sunday, October 21, 2012

This is slightly crazy. A few weeks ago I decided to work on a small set of photos of Venice, converted to black & white using the excellent Nik Silver EFX 2.0. Silver EFX does a pretty good job of turning digital images into emulations of monochrome film photography. So far so good. But then it occurred to me that I was actually transforming scans of positive film into emulations of monochrome negative film, which is not exactly an optimum process, since there’s a good 5 extra stops of exposure range in b&w, and the contrast curve in positive film doesn’t like being stretched too much. Well anyway. I’d probably have been better off loading Agfa Scala in my XPan in the first place. Or even Ektar 100. And apart from that, the originals actually were shot very much with colour in mind. But I quite like the way it all turned out.

Venice monochrome

I’ve decided to publish the set on 500px. I’ve had an account there for a while, but so far I haven’t used it much. What I like about 500px over Flickr is that it lends itself more to publishing sets, or portfolios. Flickr of course allows you to create sets as well, but it really puts an emphasis on individual photos. I can’t say I’ve built up much of a following over the 5 years or so I’ve been on Flickr, so perhaps it’s worth trying another approach. Personally I feel my photos work better in portfolios - in fact I was nudged in this direction a while ago by a professional photographer friend - but photo sharing sites are pretty much all about the latest shot, followed 15 nanoseconds later by the next. Also somehow photos taken recently are granted more worth than ones taken several years, or more, ago. I don’t really know why that is. These photos are nearly 2 years old, but they wouldn’t look substantially different had I taken them yesterday.

500pxVenice

I’m not all that happy about 500px deciding that everybody’s photos should be represented by a square preview. That’s them imposing their aesthetic decision over mine. But I suppose everybody else does this too. Otherwise it’s certainly much cleaner and photo-centric than Flickr.

Here’s one that didn’t make the cut. Possibly a little too clichéd.

Xpan 0210venice 004 bw

And there’s another one that didn’t make it to 500px, but ended up on Flickr instead. Well, I wouldn’t want them to feel left out.

 

 

Snakes in the rain

Reptile rescue

in Photography in Ticino , Thursday, October 18, 2012

Well, ok, one snake. But no question about the rain. I encountered this extremely lethargic specimen on a track leading up from the middle of nowhere to the back of beyond. Since it was at risk from the occasional farm truck, mountain biker or hiker, I decided to remove it - carefully - to a slighty less exposed spot which hopefully might get some sun soon. I’ve no idea what kind of snake it is - or even if is actually a true snake. It seems to have a more lizard-like head. Possibly a viper, though.

Mystery reptile. Olympus E-5 with 12-60 ZUIKO Digital lens

 

Silverfast 8 HDR Review

Just outta beta

in Product reviews , Friday, October 12, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, Silverfast 8 HDR finally, quietly slipped out of Beta. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, so it’s time for a quick review. I’m running Silverfast HDR under MacOS X 10.8.2, and it was actually this that I was waiting for before upgrading from Snow Leopard.

SilverFast HDR 8

So, what’s new in this first full release (8.0.1r16)? Well there seem to be a lot of small stability fixes, and everything runs more smoothly, but perhaps the most obvious, and very welcome, is the pre-population of the output file name with the input name. Now, a great enhancement would be to be able set up a rule for this. For. Example, I always name my HDR files “whatever.hdr.tif” - so it would be great if I could specify that the form of the output should be the first part of the filename, and the appropriate suffix, e.g “whatever.psd”.

The Job Manager now seems to be fully featured. Actually I think that this was already introduced during the Beta, but it’s main feature isn’t very obvious and deserves to be highlighted. Previous versions of HDR included a semi-standalone, fully featured file browser / organiser, the VLT (Virtual Light Table). Amongst other things this enabled you to open a large sequence of files and handle them as a batch in HDR. You could switch between files in HDR using the Job Manager, and carry out all the edits you wanted, before submitting the whole batch for output processing - a very powerful and useful feature (yes, I know RAW processors such as CaptureOne do similar things, but remember that Silverfast seriously predates any of these). Anyway, the VLT is missing in action, but the Job Manager functionality has been restored by allowing multiple files to be selected in HDR’s file open dialog, which then appear as a batch in the Job Manager. I’m not really sure we still need the VLT.

JobManager

The Job Manager: clicking on any thumbnail opens the image in the editor

For people unfamiliar about Silverfast’s approach, maybe a few words of explanation would be useful. First, “HDR”: in the Silverfast world, HDR really applies to a workflow, where 48 (or 64) bit, uncorrected, colour managed, linear Gamma scans are made, saved, and later reopened and processed in a dedicated application - Silverfast HDR. Lasersoft describe this as an archival workflow, since you create and save a “raw” (not “RAW” scan with the highest possible fidelity, and can then create as many output variations as you wish without altering the original scan. The alternative is to create scans with corrections “baked in”, a much less flexible approach. So, “HDR” in this sense has nothing to do with “HDR” in the digital photography sense, but to be fair Lasersoft was using this terminology long before the now commonly understood meaning was in general circulation.

Silverfast diagram

The Silverfast HDR workflow

I should also note that VueScan supports a similar workflow, although personally I’ve never been able to it to work to my satisfaction. A great advantage of Silverfast in general is that while it can be complex - indeed, very complex, in the vast majority of cases it also delivers very acceptable “all auto” one-touch results. You can dive deep into Silverfast, but you don’t have to. That’s not my experience with VueScan, which pretty much requires that you come to terms with its arcane and user-hostile interface before delivering the excellent results that it is capable of. Of course, there’s no avoiding the fact that you get what you pay for: VueScan is a lot cheaper that Silverfast, especially the full Archive Suite, but there may be considerable trade offs in time you spend in front of your computer screen. Suffice it to say that I respect VueScan as a viable alternative, but I made my choice a while ago.

Before ending this topic, I should mention that you can, if you so desire, open Silverfast 48bit HDRs in other applications such as Photoshop, but at the price of losing Silverfast’s proprietary processing algorithms. If you’re a Photoshop luminary and relish a serious challenge then possibly you could get results as good as Silverfast’s, but I’ve got better things to do with my time!

Returning to the review itself, the obvious general highlight in version 8 is the all-new user interface. New users will find it far easier to understand and use than the previous versions, while upgraders will generally not be too disorientated. All the tools remain, with similar, but updated icon design, and many features are now accessible through a standard OS menu bar. Application Preferences have been moved to where one would generally expect to find them. The UI is now unified in a single window, although tool palettes can be floated and detached.

SilverFast HDR 8 UI

The Silverfast 8 User Interface

SilverFast HDR 8 UI panels

The Silverfast 8 User Interface - with undocked tool palettes

The UI is in general quite configurable and generally a pleasure to work with, although it retains a few idiosyncratic touches. One major improvement is that most adjustments can be toggled on or off, therefore allowing a before and after view. It would be great if there were a global toggle to switch back to the unadjusted file, but this is a good start. Various adjustments have detail improvements, including highlight / shadow compensation, the USM sharpening tool, and especially the very effective iSRD dust & scratch removal. However, version 6’s clone tool seems to have gone. In fact, were Silverfast to gain a few extra tools such as free rotation and something like Photoshop’s patch tool, it could become fully standalone. It even includes a pretty nifty layout / print module, PrinTao, but this is unfortunately of little practical use as files almost always require a little extra work in Photoshop.

One area where Silverfast has long held the aces is in colour correction. This has been even further improved in version 8. Features like the multi-point “neutral pipette”, and the global and selective colour correction tools would take far too long to cover here (for that I recommend Mark Segal’s excellent book), but make complex colour cast removal (or creative colour adjustment) not only fairly simple but even fun. In a geeky sort of way. One minor grumble is that the excellent colour cast removal slider, which often is all you need, and in all cases will get you in the ballpark, has been hidden in the advanced settings of the gradation tool. This seems a strange decision. Actually so long as you calibrate your scanner(s), using the idiot-proof IT8 tool, quite often Silverfast will deliver excellent results with one click on the auto-adjust button.

SilverFast CC

The three main colour editing tools

SilverFast neutral

The effect of a single click with the neutral pipette - left corrected, right original with magenta cast

Of course all these adjustment tools are available in the scanner-specific companion application, Silverfast Ai Studio, but if you use them there you’re baking them into your scan. One tool you do, however, need to use at scan time is the noise-reducing multi-exposure. One important issue for people with older scanners considering upgrading is that some features of version 6 are not going to make it into version 8. This includes Digital ICE support (for licensing reasons), which is replaced, more than adequately, by iSRD, and multi-sampling, which is replaced by multi-exposure. I’m not too sure about the latter: in version 6, when multi-exposure works, it is as good as, if not better than, multi-sampling, as well as faster, but sometimes it suffers from alignment problems, seemingly at random, which make scans useless. Multi-sampling in version 8 works fine for my CanoScan 9000F, but my Minolta film scanner is not yet supported (and probably never will be), so I have no idea if it has been improved.

So far Silverfast 8 HDR has been pretty stable. I have encountered a few glitches with the Job Manager, where it sometimes gets confused about image rotation, and where the application has crashed half way through a batch process. Annoying, but the edit settings for each image in the batch were retained, so no great harm done.

With version 8 Silverfast has gained a new lease of life. It retains the solid strengths of the previous versions, in some cases with significant enhancements, and packages them all up in a vastly improved user interface which will be much more familiar in concept to users of other image editing applications. Although there are alternatives, in my opinion Silverfast has cemented its position as the gold standard for the film-based digital imaging workflow. The full Archive Suite with Silverfast HDR is not cheap, but if you’re regularly shooting and scanning film, it’s an investment that will pay off in quality of results and time saved. And it will make your scans sing.

Note: coincidentally, today Lasersoft announced the lower cost Silverfast SE Archive Suite

 

 
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