Lasersoft Imaging recently announced the release of Silverfast 8.5 at CeBit, and shortly after it became available for download. This is the most significant update since the complete rewrite which gave us version 8, and it has some interesting sounding enhancements. The first is a much enhanced Job Manager, and the second is the new “HDRi RAW” file format. I’ve been playing around a little with v8.5 Ai Studio, and v8.5 HDR Studio, and here are some very quick, and not terribly deeply researched first impressions.
In the past some new Silverfast features could perhaps be described as over-hyped, or poorly conceived, and on top of that were charged for. But I’m pleased to say that this time around, there seem little grounds for skepticism. First of all, it’s a free upgrade, and secondly, the new features are well designed, well integrated, and genuinely useful.
The Job Manager has gained a great time saving feature inspired by applications such as Aperture or Lightroom: the ability to copy and paste adjustments from one frame to one or more others. In Silverfast it’s called “Extract & Apply”. In Aperture, “Lift & Stamp” - whatever the name, this is really welcome and is especially useful when working on large batches of files in HDR Studio.
Apart from this feature, the Job Manager, which is at the core of Silverfast’s workflow, has had a thorough refresh, and is much nicer to work with now.
The new file format, HDRi RAW, as far as I can tell retains image adjustment settings with the “HDR” file, so that they can be retained between sessions. This is great, but so far I have to confess to being a little confused, as I thought that Silverfast HDR Studio already managed that. Possibly not, maybe it was only the case for saved Job Manager sessions. Anyway, it works, and there is also a right-click method to reset to default within the VLT thumbnail browser.
Also, the VLT itself seems to have had some behind the scenes attention, as it feels significantly faster and responsive. Overall the application appears to have received speed and stability enhancements.
There is another new feature, the forthcoming iOS job monitor app. This seems to be more into the quirky end of Silverfast’s range of features, but I guess it might be entertaining!
In conclusion, this is one of the most comprehensive and well thought out revisions I’ve seen Silverfast receive for quite a while. It’s a good indication of the ongoing commitment of Lasersoft to their customers.
One last thing, though. The original CeBit Press Release also mentioned the re-launch, with software and hardware enhancements, of the Plustek OpticFilm 120. I haven’t seen any follow-up to that…
Well, following my recent despairing musings, I’ve taken words of advice to heart, and decided that the best way to gain some redress from my creative slump is to BUY CAMERAS! Yay! So, rather than embark on some dull as ditchwater Photo-A-Day endeavour like everybody else, I’m going to be totally original and buy and rave about a new camera every week! Nobody has ever thought of that! (er, are you quite sure about that ? - author’s alter ego). By the time I’ve worked out what button to press to active Sweet Puppy Darling Cheesecake Party Light Selfie Mode (no, really, Panasonic *do* have that, I saw it on DPReview), I’ll be using the video mode (whatever the hell that is) to show the unboxing of the next one! And my blog will instantly become as cool as 35MMC! (author’s little voice - in your dreams, and after some extreme outsourced graphic design makeover, matey)
So, drum rolls and whatever, here’s the first in a long, long series (promise), a brand new (almost), totally up to date FULL FRAME DSLR (Dented-SLR): the truly stunning Olympus OM4Ti.
I’ve wanted one of these since, like, forever (I’ve seen cool people use “like, forever” on Facebook, so whatever). But it used to cost about $2000, which was a little on the ascendant side, given that it doesn’t even have Exposure Priority. Or indeed video. Then again since I only ever use Aperture Priority, that’s not a problem. And it cost CHF 89.-, which is slightly more US$ than this time last week (and let’s not even mention €), but still rather a lot less than $2K.
And OMG is it gorgeous. I can’t stop fondling it. The view through the finder makes me babble incoherently (nothing new there), and feathers would kill for its lightness of touch. It makes my Digital Wonderbox E-P5 look a little tragic, really. The handling is just perfect, the multispot mode that I remember Canon copying on the T90, and which I used a lot until it gave me a hernia, is excellent, although overkill for negative film, and the Hilight / Shadow buttons are fantastic for when you can’t remember how exposure compensation works. So, I ran two rolls of slightly expired Ektar 100 through it - I hate Ektar 100, actually, but it’s all I had to hand - and rushed off to the only 1-Hour photo lab left this side of the Alps… and it was bloody closed. So no slightly delayed chimping for me.
…two days later…
Well, getting two rolls of Ektar processed and scanned automatically to CD on a Fuji Frontier 1000 cost me about half the cost of the camera, which gives one pause for thought, but the results are promising. Apart from the shots where I forgot that image stabilisation was invented about 20 years later, and allowing that it is, after all, Ektar, they look pretty good to me. When I get time I’ll do my own scans. I have two Zuiko lenses, a rather crotchety 50mm f/1.4, and a very smooth 85mm f/2.0. Both work far better on the OM4Ti than on digital bodies.
So, these are all basic vanilla lab scans, no tweaking.
Film’s not dead. It’s just resting.
Right, that’s enough of that camera. Bored. Attention span exceeded. Next, please!
In film circles, Kodak Portra 400 is a very popular choice. Actually there’s not all that many alternatives left these days, but even if there were, I suspect Portra 400 would still have a considerable following. Based on the name, I always assumed that the film was designed for portraiture, and as I’m not really into that, I never really tried it. I think I used a few rolls of Portra 800 many years ago to shoot a flamenco show, and that’s about it. But it also has developed a following in landscape circles, where it seems to be the anti-Velvia option.
As a negative film, Portra lends itself very much to broad daylight photography, unlike most slide film, given soft, luminous, pastel tones. I’ve read advice to overexpose it, so I did so, using it in my Xpan with +1 stop exposure compensation. The fun thing about this film is that it seems almost impossible to burn the highlights. On the other hand, the shadow density is a bit weak.
One drawback of negative film is that it can be very trick to scan. However in this case, using the Silverfasrt Portra “NegaFix” profile worked pretty well straight out of the box. As you can in a previous post, the overall colour compared to an E100G slide film shot is pretty close.
Here are a few examples, shot in and around Dorgali and Oristana in wonderful Sardinia:
This was possibly the first time I’ve really set out to mimic a style. It seemed to work out quite well. However, as enjoyable as it was, it’s not really me. I’d just better remember to reset the exposure compensation on the XPan before I go back to slide film!
Continuing the report on my trials with Kodak Provia 400 in Sardinia, I’ve now got the heavyweight stuff processed, i.e the rolls that went through the XPan. Interestingly, without really planning it, I have two shots taken a few minutes apart of the same scene, one on the last frame of a roll of E100G that was in the camera, and one on Portra 400. Both were taken handheld, so the framing is a little different. And the light changed slightly, it was a little sunnier for the top image.
Both were scanned on the Opticfilm 120, using Silverfast. For the Portra, I used the 400NC Negafix profile. Both images are straight scans, no further processing. Can you tell which is which? (Try just looking at the colour, there are a few other giveaways for the more astute viewer…)
I’ve been dabbling in infrared for about as long as I’ve being photographing, which is far too long. Originally I was shooting Kodak Highspeed Infrared in manual Canon SLRs. In fact my first shot ever used for commercial purposes was an infrared shot, used as the basis for an illustration. I experimented a bit with colour infrared, but never really took to it. All colour infrared shots remind me of a Van der Graaf Generator LP inner sleeve (Pawn Hearts), and most monochrome infrared shots can’t avoid recalling U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” (which infamously plagiarised probably the best infrared photographer ever, Simon Marsden).
Early digital cameras turned out to be fantastic for infrared, as they had very weak IR filtering (by accident rather than design, I imagine), and therefore for the first time you could take out the very considerable amount of guesswork involved in exposure and focusing. The Nikon Coolpix 900 was particular good for this. Later, I experimented with IR filtering on the Olympus DSLRs I used. The results were pretty effective, although the average exposure time was around 60 seconds - which could be a creative advantage.
But I always wanted a dedicated infrared digital camera, so several years ago, just after I bought an Olympus E-P3 at a knock-down price, I sent my E-P2 off to Spencer’s Camera & Photo, in Utah, for conversion, along with full pre-payment. On April 11, 2002, they sent me an email saying “Thank you very much for your Infrared Conversion service order. We have successfully received your order and it is now being processed”. This was the last truthfull communication I got from Mr Spencer. After many long months of ignored emails, deceitful phone calls, and what I discovered through post-due diligence was a standard pattern of fake progress reports and fabricated shipping bills, I just gave up. I lost the money (which was a very big deal at the time, I’d just bought a house and lost a job, and this was my full “hobby budget” for the year) and the camera. Mr Spencer will hopefully toast a little in whichever section of hell is set aside for him.
Anyway, this year, finally, I felt like trying again. With a reliable recommendation for Advanced Camera Services in England, and a new “donor” camera, the E-P3 having been joined by an E-P5 (again at a knockdown price), it seemed worth the attempt. This time, there was no pre-payment requested, and although the turnaround time was a lot longer than I expected, and the communication very economic, the camera did turn up, with the IR blocking filter removed, and a new 830nm filter installed. Naturally, right on cue, it started absolutely pissing down in Ticino, and it hasn’t stopped yet. But I have managed to get a few shots.
It’s a very different experience, shooting with my “new” E-P3-IR. Exposure times are normal, you get full preview, instant feedback. Initially, though, I’m not really feeling the magic. There’s seems to be something missing, it’s all too clean, too clinical, too precise. IR photography was never precise. I’ve tried to come up with an appropriate recipe in SilverEFX 2, and that’s helping a bit. Also, there hasn’t been a lot of inspiration is subject matter so far. But most of all, I’m not really all that excited about IR any more. But let’s see how it goes. What is very interesting is that the converted camera works fine in overcast conditions, which IR film, nor indeed unconverted DSLRs, never did. This opens up several interesting avenues to explore, first treating the camera as a straightforward monochrome digital, and second, applying more drastic filtering. Gosh, even STREET - get that, Olivier ? We shall see.