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A matter of Exposure

in Product reviews , Saturday, February 18, 2017

In a bit of a fit of retail therapy, the other day I decided to buy a license for Alienskin Exposure 2. This is an application with its roots very firmly in film emulation, but which in recent years has expanded into a full blown digital RAW file processor and - to some limited extent - organiser. In the past I've written a bit about trying out various film emulation methods, and being generally unconvinced. Since I used film extensively, and still do to some extent, I do have a reasonable idea of what I would expect such software to deliver, and I also the real thing to compare against. I'm not really interested any more in trying to emulate film, as such. If I want a Portra look, I'll use Portra. But what does interested me is being able to apply a preset, or whatever you want to call it, to a given batch of photos, thereby giving them a coherent feel, while at the same time being able to speed up the process of all this adjustment stuff and get to the actually interesting part (for me, anyway) of editing and publishing. I tend to get so overwhelmed with the adjustment part, in the limited time I have, that it seems I'll never get to the actual point of it all. I also horrify myself with the sheer quantity of photos I take, even when I'm under the impression that I'm a model of self-restraint. This "preset" approach I find is more adapted to my urban photography than landscape, or whatever you want to call it. Sometime last year I took advantage of a special offer and bought a VCSO film preset package for Lightroom, just to explore it a bit. Clearly it didn't grab me much, as by now I'd practically forgotten about it. However earlier this week, I started working on a smallish set of photos recently taken in Buenos Aires, and decided to try applying the VCSO Portra 400 presets. I quite liked what I was seeing, although the results did seem a little contrasty to me, and VCSO's idea of what the ultimate hipster cliché 2-stop overexposed Portra 400 looks like doesn't correspond at all to what I see on film. I had tried out Exposure a while ago, but at that point felt it didn't offer me anything. But anyway, needing an excuse to spend money to make me fell better, I tried it again. And I'm glad I did. The interesting thing is, when I first put two versions side by side in Lightroom, one processed through VCSO, the other in Exposure 2 and imported, I immediately thought I'd wasted my money. The VCSO version was much more like Portra to my eyes. Then... I realised I had mistaken which was which. So the "good" version was from Exposure 2. Of course this is 150% subjective, and there's no real logic to it. But I repeated the experiment several times, and confirmed my opinion. However, the VCSO versions most definitely have more of that "pop" that people apparently want. But if I wanted "pop" I'd used Ektar, not Portra.
Exposure2vcso

I'm actually not going to say which is which here. But you can probably guess.

So I'm pretty happy with Exposure 2, but working out how to use it is a bit tricky. It can work standalone, including a file/folder based browser (where it recognises Lightroom star ratings, which is handy), or it can work as a plugin. The problem with working as a plugin is that it receives a TIFF file generated by Lightroom with basic processing baked in (e.g. Adobe standard profiles). That isn't an ideal place to start from, which I imagine is one of the drivers behind expanding the reach of Exposure in the first place. The standalone Exposure 2 is actually quite impressive. It doesn't seem to have received much praise or attention, but from a toolset point of view it combines a lot of the better aspects of both Lightroom and Capture One, and adds a twist of its own. The layer methodology, for example is better than either of its two august competitors. Exposure 2 has a lot of tools more specific to customising film emulation, inherited from the older plug-in only versions, and Alien Skin's from Bokeh application seems to be integrated (although that's not something I'm all that interested in). Apparently it also has automatic lens correction. But it doesn't have any chromatic aberration removal that I can see, or any perspective correction. Or, indeed, anything approach a user manual.
Exposure2vcso2

Another example. Again, you decide.

I'm quite comfortable with Lightroom these days. I appreciate the integration with things like Lr Mobile, and Adobe Spark, both of which allow me to make better use of my commute time. Lightroom, unfortunately, is an awful organiser /editor, but it is less awful than anything else on the market. There's no point any more lamenting Aperture, PhaseOne seem totally clueless on what to do with MediaPro, so Lightroom will have to do. And since organising and editing is a core part of my creative process, Lightroom is as well. So, the compromise is to use Exposure 2 standalone to generate alternative versions, and import them into Lightroom for any final tweaking and management. It would be nice if Alien Skin could add the kind of "slingshot" feature in Iridient Developer, which when receiving a TIFF from Lightroom, instead looks for and loads the associated RAW, and then when saving overwrites the TIFF, leaving Lightroom none the wiser to the sleight of hand. I'm also a bit puzzled why Exposure 2 does not include modern Portra 400 emulation, but just 400NC and 400VC. 400NC is close enough, but still, I would expect currently available films to be emulated. Otherwise, I'll repeat what I said earlier - Alienskin Exposure 2 is actually a pretty good piece of software, and not only for film emulation. I'm surprised it doesn't get more coverage.
Posted in category "Product reviews" on Saturday, February 18, 2017 at 05:00 PM

Sidetracked, again

in Site Admin , Sunday, October 02, 2016

Recently, for whatever reason, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of visitors here (UPDATE - this might have something to with it). This coincides with a major drop in my posting frequency, which is unfortunate. So I thought maybe I should explain.

Earlier this year, around April, I asked a person whose opinions I respect for some feedback on my website. The outcome wasn't the glowing praise I hoped for, and in particular the observation that "it's a bit stuck in time (2000 to be exact)" stung a bit.

So I decided to redesign it. And, of course, I bit off far more than I could chew. In theory it should take me two weeks or so to do a redesign, but in practice, I have about 6 hours a week from which I could take time to do it (and that 6 hours also includes photo editing, keeping my computer working, lounging in front of the TV, or generally collapsing on the couch after yet another fabulous 12 hours away at the "day" job). On top of that, the publishing software I use was urgently in need of upgrading to a newer version. Any upgrade of Expression Engine is a bloody nightmare, but this time practically every plug-in I use broke as well, so it took about 1 month elapsed time to sort that out.

I then realised that a long history of quick fixes and "improvements" to my existing code had made it unmaintainable. So that needed to be cleared up. One more month passed by.

Then I could start thinking about how to redesign the site. So, I tried looking at a few other sites for inspiration. Not much luck there - the vast majority of photographer's web sites are boring as hell, with exactly the same layouts, "clever" off-the-peg galleries with all the bells and whistles, which do all they can to ruin the viewing experience, and very, very little to encourage return visits. The quality of the photography is irrelevant at this point. I did look at a few website services, bot the only ones that passed even basic requirements for me were Squarespace and Koken, and both those have showstoppers. Woken is one I'm watching for the future, though.

I've also been told that there isn't enough focus here on my photography. Well, ok, good point. So I'm trying to address this in three ways: 1 - improve the accessibility and presentation of existing content, 2 - improve my curation, 3 - introduce a completely new channel for more ephemeral collections, called "Photo Diary". Oh, and put some emphasis on my very short list of publications. Unfortunately all of that is a lot of work.

So, now, at the start of October, I have more or less completed the structure, and I'm working on the graphic design. Below is a snapshot of what the new front page looks like, right now. I've no idea if it will stay that way, or if it will ever come to light. So that's why I've been quiet recently.

Home new wip


Anyway, it's only photography. And barely that, really.
Posted in category "Site Admin" on Sunday, October 02, 2016 at 10:51 PM

Down in the details

in Photography , Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back in June 2006, several geological eras ago in Internet years, I wrote a blog post which started out like this:

Following earlier posts about this, today I managed to find time to evaluate Iridient RAW Developer 1.5.1 against CaptureOne Pro 3.7.4, for Olympus E-1 RAWs. The results are clear: RAW Developer is extracting more detail and more neutral colour than CaptureOne

Now over 9 years later, I’m repeating the same loop. In recent months I unhappily emigrated from Aperture, and eventually settled on returning to CaptureOne as the best compromise. I painstakingly exported my Aperture library and watched CaptureOne painfully, sluggishly import it. It didn’t do too bad a job - better than Lightroom anyway - and I was more or less able to recreate my Aperture projects within the approximation of MediaPro which has been bludgeoned into CaptureOne. And I diligently set about getting back up to speed with C1, helped by the ample, free tutorial material on Phase One’s website.

I managed to convince myself I (still) quite liked the default “Film curve”, and I was and am impressed by the exposure controls and the layer adjustments, in particular to apply local white balance.  I am a lot less impressed by the total lack of luminosity, or indeed luminance curves/levels.  But I guess I can live with that with some help from the saturation sliders.

But more and more I started getting a feeling that things didn’t look quite right when taking a closer look. I’m no pixel peeper, but even so, once I’ve noticed something at 100% magnification I find it hard to ignore. I was seeing a disturbing “plastic” look in low frequency areas, and lack of definition in high frequency detail like foliage. First I thought it was just a limitation of the small sensor in the Olympus camera I mainly use, or maybe the less than top-level lenses. But then I started down the rocky road of comparing Raw developers. Yet again.

The following nondescript postcard shot from Norway provides a good example - shot with an Olympus E-P5 and 17mm f1.8 lens (actually quite a good lens) at f8.0 (which, yes, is a slightly suboptimal aperture if you’re a pixel peeper), handheld. So it’s hardly a technical masterpiece, or indeed an artistic one.

Drm 2015 06 01 P6012469

Within this photo, I’ve compared two areas at 100%, one processed with Capture One 8.2, the other with Iridient Developer 3.0.3.  The differences, at least to me, are obvious.

Iridient Developer 2

Left: Iridient - Right: Capture One

Iridient Developer

Left: Iridient - Right: Capture One

For the Iridient images, I have used default settings, including the Iridient Reveal sharpening mode and default noise reduction. On the Capture One side, I have used default settings, but with Pre-sharpening 2, and noise reduction disabled. Leaving camera default noise reduction on is a real disaster. I cannot for the life of me imagine why people say Capture One has good noise reduction. And I have tried very hard to fine tune it, I really wanted to be able live with it.  At the same time I briefly tried comparing with Adobe Camera Raw (Photoshop CS6) and Aperture 3. Abobe Camera Raw gave pretty much identical results to Capture One. Aperture was marginally better. But Iridient is miles ahead.

Iridient has one other ace up it’s sleeve, the Lab mode curves. Being able to apply contrast with no colour shift using the luminance curve is very nice. It’s also very good for highlight recovery, which is just as well, as Iridient “Extreme Highlight Recovery” slider is not one of it’s strong points. The sharpening and noise reduction are industry-leading, and the general level of control is outstanding.  Of course, there are no layers, no local adjustments, none of that fancy stuff. But that’s what Photoshop is for.

All this really only holds for my personal experience with Olympus micro-four thirds cameras. I daresay Capture One might handle my Ricoh GR better, but that’s out of scope here. I’m sure it does an excellent job with digital backs and high-end DSLRs, but I really don’t think Phase One has much focus on us “little people” - although they’re happy to take our money.

Probably before long I’ll have changed my mind again, but for the time being I’m fully committed to an Iridient-centric workflow. 

 

Posted in category "Photography" on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 08:55 PM

Hotspot

in Product reviews , Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It’s pretty damned hot down here in Canton Ticino. For at least two weeks, afternoon temperatures have been well above 35C, and there hasn’t been a whisper of rain. People are getting tired and irritable - other people, that is, I’m always like that anyway. It’s hardly conducive to being out and about with a camera, but anyway, something prompted me to dig out my Sigma DP2 Merrill, and fortune favoured me with this grab shot.

dp2m_20150720_0012b

This leads me on to a further note on Mylio. I’ve now decided to become a paying customer, and to try to make Mylio work for me. It isn’t perfectly suited to my needs, but it’s closer than pretty much anything else out there.

Mylio, unsurprisingly, does not support Sigma RAW files. It would be totally unreasonable to expect otherwise.  But there is a workaround to this, if you happen to use Iridient Developer as your favoured processor for Sigma X3F files, as I do. Iridient has a neat feature which, when you send it a JPG or a TIFF, allows you to tell it to look for a corresponding RAW file. So, provided I first create JPGs of all my X3F files, which I can batch through Iridient (and it takes quite a while), then Mylio will catalog and display the JPG, and will allow me to send it to Iridient - which then opens the RAW. Problem solved.

Mylio 6

Sigma JPG previews cataloged in Mylio

Unfortunately, this particular image has a bad case of Sigma green/magenta cast disease, which in extreme cases Iridient can’t handle.  So I eventually processed in Sigma Photo Pro instead. And Sigma Photo Pro, which is clearly designed by a part-time high school intern with hostility issues, naturally can’t even open a file directly (you have to use it’s browser) never mind do the JPG-X3F association trick.

Of course, trying to handle Sigma RAW files in Mylio makes me something of an edge case on an edge case, but it is nice that a reasonable workaround exists.

I have now loaded all my RAW, scanned and processed images as far back as 2010 into Mylio, for a total of 40,700 files. It’s coping quite well with this load, so far.  In order to ease the process I’ve completely reorganised my file structures, and now have everything under year headings, as opposed to Original/Finished split across different devices as before. Mylio is happier with this, and it also makes it easier to archive. Actually, I think everything except Aperture, which doesn’t care either way, will be happier with this arrangement.

Unfortunately I’ve discovered that Mylio does not support the RAW format for the Olympus E-1 and E-400, which form the bulk go my pre-2010 work.  So I’ve had to impose a cutoff, and use MediaPro to catalog my earlier archives.

All this administrative work has been a complete pain, especially coming after I had already spent quite some time first trying to do the same thing for PhotoSupreme, and then for CaptureOne.  So I hope I haven’t made a strategic error in going with Mylio. Having finally got a coherent structure in place, with intact key wording, and a revised backup strategy up and running, I really hope I can get back to the actual objective here, enjoying photography.

Posted in category "Product reviews" on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 05:53 PM

A few further thoughts on Mylio

in Product reviews , Thursday, July 16, 2015

After writing my initial impressions of Mylio, I have now used it “operationally” to keyword and rate a set of around 700 photos taken over 15 days in Norway. This is pretty much my usual workflow, first I concentrate on initial culling, key wording, and rough ratings, and then I start working on optimising the selects from the RAW file. I’ll then set them aside and do something else for a while - like film scanning - and then come back to do a final select.

So far I’ve most worked on the Mac version of Mylio, although I have used the sync functions to send thumbnails to my iPad and iPhone. The editing stage works well, but with some reservations. I find the select/filter tools a little awkward to get my around: once you understand that they work globally, not on the selected album or object you are working with (so the reverse to Aperture), then it becomes clear. It’s a different way of working, but probably fine.  But there’s some strange view switching going on when editing the filter settings - apparently this is a bug, which will be fixed.  Once I’d got everything settled down, I created a “Norway 2015” album and started working from there.

Here I did encounter a few annoyances. I’m not too wild about Mylio “inventing” keywords for me: it creates a keyword for every folder it “watches”. I don’t want it do this, it is adding useless clutter and making looking up keywords harder than it needs to be.

Mylio

Mylio’s idea of what I’d want to use as keywords diverges from mine

I’m also not sure why the EXIF data in the info panel is so small and hard to read.  I often want to see what f-stop I used when rating photos. Mylio doesn’t make it easy!  Yes, you can adjust the text size, but this is universal. The small size is fine for me, I just want that vital camera data to be more readable. Same goes for the keyword display in the same panel.

Mylio 2

The Camera EXIF data (green box) really keeps itself to itself…


But so far, so good. My first pass reduced the count from 700+ to around 200. I’m casting quite a wide net to start of with.  So, I sat down intending to send the whole set to Iridient Developer for stage 2.  Except that I can’t.  You can select “Open In…” for 1 image, but not multiple images. That is a bit deflating. In fact, that’s enough to make me give up on Mylio for now. No way am I clicking 200 times when any other comparable application would allow me to send the whole set in one action.

Mylio 3

Mylio makes it easy open a photo in a RAW processor…

Mylio 4

..but several photos are not allowed

There are a few other issues I’ve now noticed.  In the RAW development tools, Mylio does not apply embedded lens corrections, at least not from my Olympus E-P5. If I was planning to use this feature, that would be another showstopper.

Mylio 5

This Norwegian cabin really doesn’t bulge like this!

Finally, it would appear that the “Mylio Cloud” has been quietly dropped. It is not longer mentioned anywhere on the website, but instead a vague reference to being able to integrate at some point (but not today) your own choice of cloud storage has appeared.  This seems like a major change of strategy (and possibly a good one), and I would expect to find some official announcement or explanation.  The fact that I can’t - and I have spent while searching - is a little unsettling.

So for me the jury is still out on Mylio. It looks promising, it has potential, but the message is a little confused.  There seems to be a strong focus on the social media market, which of course is understandable, and mandatory if you have the usual airhead VC backers to deal with (not that I’m saying they have). But, Mylio, remember that Facebook and Flickr users expect to get stuff for free. They will not pay you, certainly not $100/year. They are not the “pro” market you seem to be addressing, intermittently. I’ve spent long enough (far too long enough) in IT startups to see the early signs of failing momentum. I do hope I’m wrong when I’m beginning to see it here.  Really I do, because I want what Mylio is promising, very much.

Posted in category "Product reviews" on Thursday, July 16, 2015 at 07:47 PM

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