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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Software

displacement activity I

in Post-processing , Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I’ve recently been going through some kind of phase where I’m reassessing a lot of my work. Initially this was on an aesthetic level, but somewhat inevitably technical considerations started to intervene. First of all, I have been trying to get a little more disciplined in my picture making. Although I like to think that I’m pretty much on top of the basics of using a camera, I have tended to be a little indisciplined in how I apply this knowledge. This then leads to, for example, photos with too much, or too little depth of field, because I was too lazy to think about optimising aperture. It all came about when I started to make prints of some of the recent series of woodland photos I’ve been making. In turn this led me to making a number of “test” prints (to be perfectly honest, I probably don’t make any other kind). And so I noticed that the colour in these prints was actually a bit weird, and so _then_ I just had to re-profile the paper, which more or less fixed the issue, but used up all my supplies. And left me wondering how my previous carefully created profile had “gone bad”. And off we go again.

Untangle II

“Untangle I” - the photo that led me to re-evaluate my printing

Or not - prompted by an article I saw recently, I wondered if maybe it might be a good idea to revisit ImagePrint by Colorbyte Software. I used to use ImagePrint with my Epson 2100 printer, but when this died, and some 8 years ago I splurged on an A2 Epson 3800, I would have had to upgrade my ImagePrint license, and I couldn’t afford it. So I bought a Pantone ColorMunki Photo kit instead, which allowed me to profile any printer paper I wanted. Of course this was not the only option: many paper manufacturer profiles are actually more than close enough, and if they’re not, various service providers can create custom profiles for a given paper and specific printer. But of course I wanted to do it all my own way, and now I think about it, I’ve gone through at least 3 printer profiling setups over the last 15 years or so, none cheap.  And in fact even with dedicated software and hardware, colour science, which this is an application of, is seriously hard and time consuming, apart from being a money drain.

ImagePrint on the other hand does absolutely everything for you. It includes a custom print driver which brings a number of tangible benefits, from more accurate colour to saving paper, and a huge library of expert print colour profiles tuned not only to printer/paper combinations, but also to different lighting conditions. The basic point of ImagePrint is that it offers 100% reliable, plug & play highest quality printing. So you can just forget about all the technical complexities and just enjoy the creative part. This to me is quite enough to justify the fairly high price, but on top of that there are myriad additional features which offer significant advantages in various printing scenarios.  So I renewed my license for the latest version, “ImagePrint Black”, and ever since I’ve been printing a lot more, with no test prints required.

That solved my output problems. Next up was the input. I had been working on a set of photos recently for my 2018 calendar, and revisiting these I noticed that one of them was not quite right. This was a photo of an iceberg, which look fairly spectacular, but after I printed it (see above) I realised it was all a bit too, well, blue. So once again a trip down the rabbit hole of Raw conversion software beckoned. I decided to download a trial of the latest version of Capture One, v11 (now they’re on v12), and opened a few iceberg photos. One of them, not the one that had initially sent me into a spin, really shocked me: Capture One appeared to be showing textures completely missing in the Lightroom interpretation, and better fine detail as well. I cross-checked in Exposure X3, and in Iridient Developer, and the variation across these gave me the clue I needed to narrow the gap - it was simply a case of reducing the exposure, which in Lightroom seems to have a complex relationship with brightness. The much more involved Capture One default processing had, in this case, given better results.  As for the fine detail, well, there, at least with Olympus ORF files, the current iteration of Lightroom cannot match Capture One, or indeed the new Exposure X4. Both extract more real detail, although frankly only us pixel peepers would notice in almost all cases. But this comes with a price with Capture One, as any kind of noise reduction coupled with sharpening gives a horrible plasticky effect in recent ORF files. This is nothing new - I noticed it with v8 and it was just that made me decide to give up fighting and submit to Lightroom for once and for all.

Drm 20161203 PC030310 IridientEdit 3

“float” - the photo that used to be far too blue

However, Capture One has another major card up its sleeve, at least for me: the luminance curve. In Lightroom pretty much any change to contrast, by direct slider or by curve, has a major effect on saturation as well. Apparently this is by design, and it is stubbornly maintained, but personally I hate it. You can compensate by reducing saturation and/or vibrance, but first, this is imprecise, and second, why the hell should one need to? This naturally led me to the realisation that I should just be more disciplined with applying a previous strategy: do the Raw conversion in Iridient Developer, which is far less heavy handed, has not only a luminance curve, but also a chroma curve, and delivers the best detail and sharpness of all, then do the rest in Lightroom. Iridient even includes a Lightroom plug-in to facilitate all of this.

So, after this bit of re-evaluation, I have ended up with a software end to end process (I’m not going to call it a “workflow”, this is fun, not work) which drags the absolute best of my pitiful 16 Mpix sensor camera, and starts to approach the delicacy I’m always aiming for in colour and colour transitions.  Having got those variables out of the way, I can now concentrate on choosing the correct f-stop.

 

Moving on

moving on up?

in Photography , Friday, November 30, 2018

Nearly 8 years ago, I finally gave up on any aspiration to finding an “interesting” job, and settled instead for a stable job which allowed me to continue living where I finally found a place I could and wanted to settle in. And so like many others I surrendered to the gaping maw of Banking IT. It could be worse - a lot worse - but it wasn’t really something I wanted to do when I grew up.

A distinct downside was that it required me to commute a significant distance. A second downside was an office is one of the most dreary, soul-destroying settings you could imagine (well, ok, it’s not Slough), albeit set in the middle of a fairly spectacular pre-alpine valley. To get out of the office I got into the habit of taking a walk at lunchtime, and eventually I started to take a camera with me.  To start off with, I just did “tests” - this, I think, is the first example I published - but eventually I started to see some photographic potential in the area.

For a while I was in a “satellite” office which had a number of advantages, first that being 10 minutes closer to the train station, it cut down my commute just a smidgeon, but the second was that it was also quite close to a path leading up a hill, where I discovered all sorts of wonders. Well, relative to staring at a corporate Windows PC, they were wonders.

Therails

Some photos which might have made it into my idea of a project called “The Rails”

In particular I discovered an abandoned funicular railway, which had been used many years ago in the construction of a hydroelectric plant pipeline, now itself removed and replaced.  The upper part, it turned out, was still very occasionally used to ferry materials up the hillside, but the lower part was completely abandoned, and in some places overgrown or buried. The hillside is also steep and covered in dense undergrowth, but over many lunchtime visits - some a little more extended than usual - I gradually pieced together and documented various parts.  This formed a project, “The Rails”, which, finally, only existed in my mind a few edits on my iPad, but it kept my brain working.

Later, I moved back to the main office. This was much less conveniently located for interesting lunchtime walks, but my route from and to the station did lead me through a fairly dilapidated, partially disused light industrial zone, when led to some interesting compositions. Indeed, there must be some buildings along that route I’ve photographed about 50 times if not more. In different seasons, different weather, different light, with digital cameras, film cameras, different lenses. Any of my colleagues who may have noticed what I was doing must have though I was slightly nuts… apart from the fact they already had plenty of reasons to think that.

But now it has come to an end. This, below, is the last photo from the last day of that walk to the office. There was no conscious intent in my mind to create any kind of symbolism, but it seems that I did do so.

Drm 20181123 R0000038

Up against the buffers: last day in G.

And from today I’m working in the same job but from a new location, which is only 30 minutes away, instead of 90, and while still not the most inspiring location, should give quite a lot of opportunities to explore. And it will give me 2 hours of my life back everyday, so maybe I’ll have a little more time to actual pursue and complete photographic projects. Or perhaps I’ll simply stick to type, and dither even more.

The following is a small selection of photos taken over the past 8 years while walking to or from work, or wandering around a lunchtime.  I’ve got hundreds of them…

Drm 2014 12 17 R0000228
Drm E P5 20160301 P3014050
Drm gr 20150303 0518
Drm 2014 07 10 P7100027
Drm E M5MarkII 20171019 EM590002
Drm 2014 08 04 P8040147
Drm 2014 11 07 R0000006
Drm 20181022 R0000009
Drm dp2m 20131127 1207
Drm 2015 01 19 R0000344

 

Not to be continued…

 

35mm camera clearout

Once they’re gone, they’re yours

in Film , Thursday, November 29, 2018

I’ve decided to trim back on my film camera collection, and I’m offering for sale a “vintage bundle” of 3 compact 35mm cameras, a Ricoh GR1s Date, Olympus XA, and Minx 35ML.

All three are, in my recent experience, in working order, as follows:

Ricoh GR1s
The top place LED has lost a lot of functionality, so some settings are not shown.  However they still work.  The camera switches on fine, the lens extends, auto-focus works, film transport works. However the film transport is a little noisy, and I Dom’t honestly remember if that is normal. Unfortunately Ricoh GR film cameras were never particularly robust or reliable, and what few perfect ones remain fetch crazy prices.  Basically, it still takes photos. I’ve owned the camera since new, and it comes with box, leather pouch and original manual (and original price sticker of £299, which was pretty expensive in those days…)

Minox 35ML
In my opinion this is actually the best of the three, an absolute gem. The camera works fine, the only issue is that the ISO dial on the bottom plate has lost a lot of its paint (actually it seems it was some kind of adhesive film) so you have to guess (a bit) which position is which.  It’s not a big issue.  The meter works fine.  Owned since new, nut unfortunately the box and manual have gone astray.  Bonus - a spare S28 battery is included. Shows an expiry date of 2017 but should still be fine. These are very hard to find.

Olympus XA
Full working order, the rangefinder patch might be a little faded from its new condirion, I’m really not sure, but it is still quite visible. Of the three this is the one which has had the most use recently, for example when trying out the new Ferrania P30 film. Comes with its accessory flash. This one I bought secondhand as a back up a very long time ago.

All three have clean optics and no fungus, etc.  And all three have acquired the odd scuff mark over the years, but nothing dramatic. These are working cameras, not display cabinet queens.

I’m offering all 3 for CHF 120 (or US$ 120, it’s about 1:1 right now) in Switzerland or CHF 150 posted to anywhere in the world, payment via PayPal. Not for sale individually.

To the best of my knowledge the above descriptions are correct, I absolutely don’t want to rip anybody off, but please note, they are offered at-risk, no refund or return.

IMG 5224

IMG 5229

IMG 5225

EM520007

EM520008

EM520009

EM520006

Minox bottom plate

 

 

 

2019 Calendar

shameless commercial break

in Photography , Sunday, October 28, 2018

Somehow or the other this year I’ve managed to get my act sufficiently together to produce another calendar. With the help of my better half, who has painstakingly removed all the “arty” shots from my selection, and replaced them with photos that people might actually like, this year’s theme is Antarctica (just like the last one in 2014, but that went down pretty well, so why not).

I have neither the enthusiasm nor the optimism to try to do any kind of commercial deal these days, so sales are on a very limited level via local seasonal fairs and whatever. However I’m also setting aside a few for online sales, so if you are interested please let me know. They are professionally printed on a commercial digital press, not via some online service, and the print quality is pretty good (300gsm semigloss paper). The cost would be €20 + Swiss Post postage costs to be agreed.  Delivery will probably be around early December.

The photography is largely from December 2016, but one is from 2013, and two more from a lot longer ago. From a technical point of view most are Olympus E-M1 or Olympus E-5, with a couple of Sigma dp0 shots, and outliers are Kodachrome 64 via Canon FTb.

Well, it’s neither National Geographic nor Vincent Munier, but it was fun putting it together.

Calendar2019 1

Front cover and first two months

Calendar2019 2

Back cover and last two months

 

Carmencita Film Lab

let someone else do the work

in Scanning , Saturday, October 27, 2018

I bought my first film scanner sometime in the late 1990s, a Minolta 35mm device. I upgraded to a higher resolution Microtek sometime later, and When I started using the Hasselblad XPan, I really wanted to be able to scan complete frames, so I eventually bought a Minolta medium format model. I used this until it became unreliable and unsupported by current operating systems, and replaced it with the Plustek Opticfilm 120 which I am using today. I started using Silverfast with the Minolta medium format scanner, so I’ve been using it continuously for well over 10 years. So, all in all, I’ve built up a reasonable level of experience, and possibly even expertise, in film scanning.

Apart from a few instances where I got scans for consumer film labs for quick test purposes, I have never outsourced scanning. One reason is the cost - for example, Procine in Switzerland change CHF 7.50 per frame for 120 format film (I guess this makes shooting 617 more economical…) so for a roll of 6x7 this means CHF 75. Add development and we’re practically a CHF 100, per film - scanned to 18Mb JPG (that’s pretty much $100). This is just nuts. In recent years some rather more realistic pricing has emerged from companies such as Richard Photo Lab in the US, and the quality and range of customer service seems pretty good too. However, I’m a little dubious about sending unexposed film to California.  So, when I came across Carmencita Film Lab in Spain offering a similar service, I decided to give them a go. To compare, they charged me €133 including courier delivery for 4 rolls of Portra 400, scanned to (roughly) 120Mb TIFF. It’s still far from cheap, but starting to get reasonable.

Carmencita Film Lab (CFL from now on) offer a range of scanning options. You can choose between Fuji Frontier and Noritsu scanners - I chose the Noritsu, as based on what I’ve read it offers a more neutral rendition with a little less baked-in contrast. I believe most people go with Fuji Frontier for Portra 400, but as long term readers here may have gathered, I’m not “most people”, and if there’s a less popular option, I’ll choose it. CFL also allow you to specify a “look”, but here I had no clue of either what I want or how to describe it (which may be a clue to the underlying reason why I’m not an Award-Winning Photographer). However after this first experiment I may now have a slightly better idea. CFL also recommend that in order to protect the film in transit you pad it with chocolate. I complied with this suggestion.

I accidentally sent my films by economy post, so they took a while to arrive, but once they did, CFL kept me informed of progress, and turnaround was quite fast. A few days later I received a email with a link to download the scans, and a week or so later Fedex delivered the negatives. So, now I can compare CFL scans with my own.

The four films were all shot in Calabria, in Parghelia and Pizzo, late last August. I have already published a selection of the CFL scans as a Photo Diary entry.

Cfl1

In this first screen grab, the CFL version is on the left, and my scan (Plustek 120, Siverfast with Portra 400 Negafix profile) on the right. We can see a fairly significant difference. This can be reduced by adjusting the white balance to be a little cooler, and with a tint shift towards green:

Cfl2

However, the overall colour palette is still quite different. Note the colour of the leftmost door, of the green window frames, and shaded paving stones. These are complex shifts. It is possible to get somewhat closer by playing around with HSL sliders in Lightroom, and certainly in Photoshop, but that isn’t really my intention. Another possibility would be to tune the Portra 400 Negafix profile in Silverfast to a closer match, but that’s getting into rocket science territory.

Another point of comparison is resolution and sharpness. The Plustek scans were done at 5300dpi with no sharpening, and then resampled to 50% in Photoshop. I’m not sure what the nominal resolution of the Noritsu is, but initially it looked a lot better. However, after dialling in some fairly heavy sharpening, the two ended up pretty well matched.

Cfl3

At pixel-peeping levels the Noritsu appears to show a degree of luminosity noise which is not so apparent in the Plustek scans. This may actually be grain exaggerated by heavy sharpening, but in any case, in isn’t obtrusive.

A second example shows a similar behaviour to the first: the CFL scan is considerably warmer, particularly in the shadows. As in the first example, the road and pavement surfaces are much warmer. However, the Silverfast interpretation gives more neutral grays in this area, in fact they are nearly perfectly neutral. Of course, maybe Portra 400 isn’t supposed to be neutral…

Cfl4

Again, it is relatively easy to dial out a large part of the difference with a white balance tweak, but an exact match would be tricky to deliver.

Cfl5

I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the Noritsu scans. They hold up very well against the Plustek/Silverfast combination, which itself comes out quite well against the Hasselblad X5. In fact at a first glance they are better than the Plustek output, but it is clear that the Noritsu process applies some pretty heavy sharpening, which when applied to the Plustek scans evens things out considerably. Nevertheless, from a resolution point of view, I’m not so sure that the extra time required to make my own scans is worthwhile.

The colour is another matter though. Although the CFL scans are very attractive, I’m not entirely sure that they are what I want. Unfortunately, I do not have a grey card shot to compare, or indeed a reference shot on digital. I do have digital shots in Parghelia from the same days, but not really at the same time of day. I can however make some kind of rough comparison based on experience, and that tells me that the Silverfast Portra 400 profile is closer to a neutral white balance digital shot that the Noritsu.

Looking at the following pair, while the Noritsu version (left) is very attractive, my feeling - which is inevitably subjective - is that the Silverfast version on the right is more accurate and closer to what I actually want.

Cfl7

There are two factors at play here: one, the overall colour / white balance, and the second the response curve across the colour spectrum and tonal range. Let’s not forget we’re dealing with actual film here, not emulation, and the differences are due to how two different processes interpret the exposed negative film. There is a kind of “received view” of how Portra 400 is supposed to look, which has emerged over the past 3-4 years, exemplified by Johnny Patience’s published work and writings. CFL’s scans dial right into that look and do an extremely good job of delivering it. However, my reading of this look, which is reinforced by the client work that CFL publish, is that is very much driven by the wedding / portraiture market, where the combination of flattering skin tones and subdued saturation is very appealing.  It can work for other genres as well, but it has to be a conscious decision.

I think I will carry on with this experiment, because potentially it is very liberating. Probably I will ask for cooler shadows, although that might apply only to Portra 400, and the next film I am likely to send will be 160NS.  CFL TIFFs are delivered as 8-bit sRGB, which I fell is a bit restrictive. I would much prefer 16-bit ProPhoto RGB, or at a push, Adobe RGB. But that may be technically impossible.  The fact that the Plustek/Silverfast combination delivers me ProPhoto RGB at 16-bit may actually account for some of the differences, and may indicate that they are more “accurate” - whatever that means when discussion negative film. But certainly what Carmencita Film Lab deliver by default seems to be perfect for their main target market.

 
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