photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Conflicting opinions

in Photography , Monday, August 21, 2006

In the last couple of days, two widely conflicting opinions have been published on the Leica zoom lens which ships with the new Panasonic Lumix L1 camera. Vincent Luc, writing in Réponses Photo, is disappointed with it. Not that it is bad, but he finds that the sharpness and contrast are simply not up to the expectations associated with Leica. He does, however, add that there might be some scope for improving matters in post-processing. Now, Vincent Luc is no idiot, and the review is well considered and comprehensive, nothing like the recyled PR and datasheets that most web sites pass off as "reviews". One website which certainly does not fit that in category, however, is The Luminous Landscape. Michael Reichmann, in his L1 review, has a radically different view:

"Having taken many hundreds of frames with this lens during my week in Iceland I can tell you that this is one first-rate optic. No formal tests are needed to let me know that this lens is sharp, contrasty, and quite free of any serious aberrations – at least those visible without conducting a formal test suite".

Going back to the post processing issue, it is interesting to pick up on a recent post by Colin Jago, discussion in this case the sharpness in general of Olympus E-1 images (let's just imagine that the E-1 has the fully compatible Leica zoom attached). He observes:

"(...) one of the things that you always have to bear in mind is that you only have 5 megapixels to play with. Further, these are quite soft megapixels (the anti-aliasing filter). Whilst I think that properly sharpened native resolution prints from the E1 can be fantastic, (...)".

So what is everybody actually talking about here ? First, whilst I suspect that the Vincent Luc's results are based on JPGs, I'm sure Michael's and Colin's are based on RAW. The almost diametrically opposed opinions of the lens sharpness and contrast are striking. But... is Michael talking about the results as seen (and maybe optimised) in Adobe Lightroom?

Both Colin and Vincent Luc talk about recovering sharpness lost by the anti-aliasing filter, and this where I really start to lose the plot. An AA filter is a low pass filter, usually with an abrut cutoff. It is designed to prevent the sensor from recording high frequencies which it cannot unambiguously resolve. I don't want to go into a long discussion on filtering here, but in this type of setup essentially any data blocked by the filter is gone and no amount of post-processing can bring it back. Frequencies near the cutoff frequency will be attenuated. In photography terms, this translates as an irrecoverable loss of fine detail, or more accurately, a limit on the level of fine detail that can be captured. This is obviously extremely simplistic, and people could - and do - drone on for hours about it.

Sharpening in software can give a percerption of a more detailed image, by subtle enhancement of the actual detail. But doesn't make the lens sharper or more contrasty.

The approach of evaluating the camera-lens pair using DxO's system seems to be the only consistent way to review digital systems. But when the reviewer is looking at photographic output, as the three I quote here are, then the software plays an equally important part, and should be explicitly declared.

>Perhaps we should start to talk about lenses in a different way, saying for example that on camera X, processing with software Y, lens Z does not limit resolution or inhibit contrast. Then maybe it becomes easier to understand how two highly competent reviewers can draw such different conclusions.

So, is the Leica lens a dog or a gem?

Web site updates

in Photography , Friday, August 11, 2006

Over the past few weeks, I've made a considerable number of updates to this website. Most of it was behind the scenes, cleaning up and rationalising code, but I have introduced some visual updates. The photography main page now has less text and more photos. The text has been moved off to a new "Info & Contact" sub-page. The photos on the main page are taken from 4 searches:
  • A random selection from the full gallery
  • A random selection from the last 16 to be added
  • A random selection from 16 of my personal favourites
  • And a random selection from the 16 most popular - most viewed - photos on the site
Unfortunately, I didn't notice that I'd inadvertently broken the mechanism that counts accesses, which has been running for about 6 weeks. Except that it the last two weeks, it was stuck at 2806... I've tried to make the gallery list a bit more obvious too. I hope it all works for you - please let me know, or leave a comment here, if any seems broken, or it just doesn't make sense. I'd really appreciate it.

The Canary Project

in Photography , Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I received a message yesterday about The Canary Project, a photo-based campaign trying to alert people to the realities of global warming. It seems a pretty admirable initiative to me. I strongly recommend you take a look. I'll let the message speak for itself:
The Canary Project is an effort by photographer Susannah Sayler and a team of researchers, writers and designers to gather images of global warming and display those images in ways that bring them to the attention of the widest possible audience. You can see examples of the work and learn more about them here: During the month of July, Canary Project images will be on the sides of buses in Denver as part of the Museum of Contemporary Art's "Creative Acts That Matter" exhibit. You can see more of the Project's work and some of the bus images here:
I hope the buses are using low emission power :-) Anyway, please pass on the message. This is important stuff.

Bucharest 2006: a photo essay

in Photography , Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Like any place in a state of transition, Romania is a fascinating place. On the verge of EU membership, still recovering from the ravages of a megalomaniac dictator, with almost vanished memories of a brief prosperity, and with reminders in the most unlikely places of turn of the (19th) century elegance, this is a country which takes more than a while to get to grips with. Romania is an isolated Latin outpost, surrounded by Slavs and Balkans. Although claims of being the closest thing to a living relict of the Roman Empire are a bit far-fetched, it is certainly the case that the Romanian language is closer to Latin than is modern Italian. Culturally however Romania shows a closer proximity to France than to Italy. So all in all a very rich blend, with a very strong identity. E1_070806_71.jpg

Part of the Cantacuzino Palace (George Enescu museum)

Photographically speaking Romania is a treasure trove. Recently I had the opportunity to spend a few hours wandering around the centre of Bucharest, a city of many layers and many contrasts. In the early 1900s, Bucharest emulated and rivaled Paris. Buildings of all sizes, from palaces to family homes, show a strong Art Nouveau influence, although most are in a poor state of repair. Following the Second World War, Romania fell under the Soviet influence, and was severely punished for supporting Hitler's Germany. A period of Stalinisation followed, and the periphery of Bucharest, as well as most parts of Romania, is dominated by Soviet-style tower blocks. E1_070706_41.jpg

A typical unreconstructed tower block facade

Later, in the earlier period of Ceausecu's dominion, things were considerably more relaxed, and Romania was verging on non-aligned status. Unfortunately, towards the 1980s Ceausecu fell under Chinese influence and basically went mad. Vast swathes of Romanian countryside were collectivised, and large parts of historic Bucharest were demolished to make way for his megalomaniac plans to build a communist megapolis. Following the somewhat fabricated revolution in 1989, the country become a happy hunting ground for home-grown and foreign mafiosi (collectively known as the "Romanian government"), with the resulting creation of a small number of ultra-rich and a large number of very poor. In 2006, things seem to be improving, slowly, although it is extremely debatable how beneficial EU membership will be to the non-elite. E1_070606_14.jpg

The inevitable face of progress

There are layers, upon layers, upon layers in Bucharest. The country style houses of Sector 1, the restored palatial villas in the diplomatic areas, Ceausescu's civic center, remnants of communist-era shopfronts, elegant arcades, leafy, friendly parks, all mingling in with decaying communist tower blocks, and ultra-modern glass and concrete edifices. Every corner hides a surprise, for example a busy market full of the sort of fruit and vegetables that seem too tasty, too good, and especially far too cheap, to exist in Europe in 2006. E1_070606_19.jpg

Europe, from the market

Even the civic centre, with the unbelievable Casa Poporului (House of the People) as its focal point, starts to become acceptable, attractive even, with the numerous fountains restored to full working order, and the wide sidewalks line with leafy trees. The neoclassical Athenaeum is genuinely beautiful. Photographic opportunities are everywhere, and tourists are still thin on the ground. People are, by and large, extremely friendly and warm, although there are some aggressive beggars around. However, the number of hustlers and touts seems to have reduced a lot over the past few years. E1_070606_07.jpg

New use for old Style

Bucharest is changing very fast. Time will tell what happens next, if it retains its quirky identity or becomes a Eurostandard metropolis, but either way this period of transition will not last. No visit to Romania should end with Bucharest - you could spend years exploring this wonderful country - but it is a good place to start. E1_070606_35.jpg

Exchange. For better or for worse ?


Cartier Bresson in Romania

in Photography , Monday, July 10, 2006

Sometime in the mid 1970s, I believe, Henri Cartier Bresson visited Romania. I've only ever found two photographs of this period, this one, of a couple sleeping on a CFR train, which was published in "De qui s'agit'il ?" - hcb_cfr.jpg - and this one, of Bucovina, which I think is from "Les Europeens" PAR103227.jpg If anybody reading this knows of any others, I'd be very interested to hear of them. It is interesting, first because there is very little foreign photography of Romania of this period, at least that I know of, and secondly, because it was very late in HCB's active photographic career. Cristian Paul, writing from Bucharest, published a brief mention of the CFR photo on his, but that's all I can find.
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