Wednesday, 27 January 2010

the Panasonic 20mm: do I really need one?

I want a normal lens which has shallow depth of field ... but I fear such a thing does not exist for the micro 4/3 format.

People who suggest that I'm over analyzing this, please just post me a Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and I'll just use it. But if I have to pay for it myself (and its not cheap) I'll be doing the analysis thanks all the same ...

Well obviously the first question for me is what do I want it for?

The answer for me is photographs of people in places where I don't want the complexity of scenery to take over the image.

I just love the look of a normal lens, unlike wide angles lenses you don't get bucket loads of background and unlike telephotos' you don't get that compressed scale where the background is just a blur backdrop snuggled against the subject.

Having grown up on 35mm and then moved into large format, focal control was always a challenge of how to get more in view. Ownership of generic 35-80 zooms with apertures of f5.6 (often stopping down to f8 for clarity) seemed to make me feel my photographs were boring. I happen to read this comment a bit recently too . These zooms are a middle ground with nothing looking interesting some how (well, except for the subject matter) and I found myself graduating back to my two favorite primes a 24mm and a 50mm with my 35mm photography.

By 2000 I had more or less moved over into compact digital and large format. I always wanted a full frame DSLR and despite resistance eventually got a 20D. Beautiful images, but I'd beeen spoiled by lightweight compact cameras like my Coolpix 5000, so big and fat was not in.

However having used compact digital and then APS-C sized DSLR for some years, it wasn't until a couple of years ago I put some film in my 35mm camera and a 50mm on that I rediscovered this "style" and realized I really liked it.

Great subject isolation, and no funny telephoto "look" to the image.

Yes, this is what I'm after.

Of course having also come to work with Auto Focus in 35mm world (and know how fast it is compared to a compact digital) having a good AF system is part of my requirements too, as this can be a make or brake for a photograph. Get the focus wrong with a narrow DoF and the shot is transformed from great to delete it.

When I first got my G1 I was after a normal to do this, I tried the only options available to me, such as a legacy lens and an adaptor. I tried an FD 28mm and found that 2.8 wasn't enough.

Enter the Panasonic 20mm

So, back to my decision on the Panasonic 20mm, of course nothing you read (normally) helps you with making the decision like a hands on with the lens. I live in the boonies, so its not easy to get my hands on one, but I recently took a trip into the nearest store with one of these I could demo.

Since I have been making comparisons between my FD 28 f2.8 on my G1 and my 50mm f1.8 on my EOS I naturally took along an FD 28mm f2.8 for comparison with the 20mm.

Personally I've felt that the 20mm is a wee bit wide for a normal, and feel that the 28mm is a wee bit tele ( ... them being 40mm and 56 respectively) I'm told that the 40mm is the "perfect" normal so perhaps I'm just used to that wee bit more tele then. I have a Helicon 55mm f2 which I love (but I digress).

So, in at the shop I put my 28mm on my G1 and took a shot, without moving I then put the 20mm on and took another shot.

I used f1.7 on the 20mm and f2.8 on the 28mm

You can see quickly from this overview firstly how different their angle of view was. The colour balance comes from an issue I had with exposure with my legacy FD lens which I will go into later ...

Clearly there is some difference to take into account here. So to compare eggs with eggs I thought I'd "zoom with my feet" and walk that wee bit closer to the subject for the 20mm ... it was only another step after all. This is what I got:

Ok, so now we've got something to compare. Sure, the perspective changes by making a step forwards, but it does not stand out to me that there is significant difference between these two lenses in depth of field ... in fact that's not a real surprise to me as my calculations on DoF suggested that the 28mm @ f2.8 has a diameter of about 10mm and the 20mm @ f1.7 has a diameter of 11.7mm (remember DoF is based on aperture diameter not f number, please read my tutorial on this).

Add to this the (slight) change in perspective (subject / background distances) its really a close call. Examining them in detail its obvious there really isn't much in it ...

Since I know from testing that the 28mm @ f2.8 (on 4/3) does not have the pop of the 50mm @ f1.8 (on full frame) then after seeing this, I feel sure now that the 20mm offers me no optical advantages in my picture taking.

Getting back to the angle of view difference, I put the camera on the bench and took a picture of the cabinet on the wall with the 28 and the 20mm. I've scaled the image from the 28mm down to fit into the frame of the 20mm to show how much more the 20 captures.

more than the 8mm would suggest (to me, and perhaps to those used to working in 35mm land) and not inconsiderable if you ask me.

So what are the benefits?

?Well clearly its compact, and makes the G1 a very compact thing to poke in a backpack side pocket.

Using it simplifies operations, and I can comfortably hand the camera off to anyone with it set on Auto everything and be sure that the photo's come back as I'd expect.

I get very nice integrated manual focus operation which activates the focus assist zoom feature and all of the focus tracking nice features of the G1 will work with this lens well too.

One thing I can say I learned to love when I transited from Manual Focus to Auto Focus was that fast accurate AF is essential when trying to get sharp images of people in natural unposed situations. With MF I had to prepare and be ready for things, AF (and reliable metering) opened up a whole new world of 'grab' shots which all too often were hit and miss using MF lenses.

But the same can be said of the Kit Zoom ...

So at €399 the slim and light weight 20mm raises the question for me of "what's it good for" and further raises the question of what am I trying to accomplish with my micro 4/3 system.

Well my main criteria has been a high quality compact and light weight camera system. What I'm wanting to add to it here is shallow depth of field in a 'normal' lens , and quite clearly this lens does not provide enough to meet my desires.

If I am photographing across a dinner table then the kit zoom at something like 14mm will provide good background separation too.

So (already having EF 50 and EF24mm and an OM 21mm from my film days), I could instead put this money (the €399) towards a used Canon 5D camera and get exactly the look I am seeking (that of a 50mm f1.8) by using a 50mm f1.8 (I already have two). If I also then sold my 9-18mm and added that to the 399 above that would probably even fully pay for a used 5D.

I already know that I prefer the Bokeh of my Olympus 21mm on full frame to the ZD Olympus 9-18, so perhaps I would be better off in wide angles than I am with micro 4/3 too.

hömötinttiBut its then not just about one lens, its about a system. Do I want a 5D for just two or three lenses?

Thinking about other lenses, I find that the micro 4/3 system lacks quite a lot in that department. There are no native telephoto lenses which have IS or fast AF. While I have had some really good images from my G1 and legacy lenses like the FD 300 f4 (the bird image to the left) I'm not sure that this is something I really want to live with.

Again I find myself drawn back to the Canon EOS system, but its not without costs.

While I could source an EF 300f4 with IS in as new condition with a case even for US$1000, I only paid US$200 for the FD300f4 used above.

Sure theres no IS and no AF but I have managed to get quite a few good images from this G1 based system...

I need to balance this against the truth that for shots of people or things further than 5 meters away the differentiation between background and subject will diminish with a any lens, so perhaps my criteria is for a small set or working conditions. I really need to work out this aspect carefully before making the decision to go with Godzilla after coming to like Bambi so much. Stuff like the swivel screen and ease of review of shots in bright light using the EVF will be absent on a 5D ... it feels like stepping back in time.

I just know I'll want to grab the G1 over the 5D when off for the weekend ...

I don't know, perhaps I should regard the micro 4/3'rds as being what I expected it to be from the start, a good light weight camera for taking great pictures when I'm on the move and not as a replacement work horse for everything ... its just that the micro 4/3'rds cameras are so bloody good at stuff that one feels that they could be good at everything.

Perhaps I should just use my 4x5 film camera for static shots where I need better depth of field and have more control over it in the first place

forget about the 5D and just revel in the G1 ... after all, you can't have everything?

can you?

slanted reporting and self flagellation

It seems popular in the wake of the recent problems with the Indians living in Australia to be pointing the finger at ourselves and flogging ourselves for being racist bastards. But sometimes things go too far.

For instance, I was reading in the Australian this morning a headline which screamed out to be read in this time of political cries of racism and xenophobia in Australia:

Rescuers kicked asylum-seekers in head
well, then you read the text and find that the Navy service person was doing his best to rescue an Australian Service person (one of our citizens, who puts their life on the line to do their duty for us) who was thrown into the water by an explosion on the foreign vessel.

Not only was the Australian Service Person in question drowning (and being drowned by panic stricken civilians trying to clamber on the rescue boat) but the rescue boat was itself being threatened with being swamped by panic stricken people trying to fight for their lives.

The article contains some better expressions of the facts:
Cprl Jager, who had no experience in boarding illegal vessels, testified she was “shoulder-to-shoulder” in the water with asylum-seekers...

NB: she was saved by an Australian Navy service person:

saying, `f..k off, get the f..k off her' as he dragged me into the boat,” Crpl Jager told Coroner Greg Cavanagh.

So in fact while others are trying to drag Ms Jager into the water and kill her (caring of course only about themselves in such a moment), Able Seaman Adrian Medbury pulls panicked people off and away from her and pulls her out of certain death. No mean feat I'm sure, as these people were fighting for their lives. They would not be waiting on cue to be taken from the water (especially if the didn't know how to swim).

I think Adrian Medbury deserves a medal of honour. Mate if you ever read this, you can take it from this Australian, that I think you're a hero and deserve a citation for your fast thinking and strength of character to save Corporal Jagers life.

What a vile and disgusting mis-use of journalistic privileged this article is.

I'm willing to wager that none of the jurno's involved in putting this piece to print has even got a first aid certificate let alone be involved in a rescue attempt.

To the Editor I say: How dare you imply anything about the actions of those in the thick of such situations. I'm sure you know nothing about how it feels or the situation. I wager you've never even seen anything more than a skinned knee in person.

I hope one day you're in that situation and they fukken let you die while they rescue someone who's been breaking into your house first.

Beneath contempt.

If Corporal Sharon Jager is not happy that the Australian Navy saved her skin before others (who bloody got her into harms way in the first place) I bet at least her family are.

So, I know you at the Australian want to sell papers ... but shit folks, where's your ethics and wheres your sense of morality?

So during the Howard years we had the babys overboard scandal where the Government tries to pretend something was horrible when it wasn't and now that Labour is in power we've got the same Media grunts making the real heros into demons by telling slanted stories.

Disgusting and Shameful

PS the above article was penned in the first place by Lex Hall. Subsequent prints of this article have shown a disturbing tendency to make a case that Defence Force personnel just went about kicking Afghans refugees in the head. Lex I hope you reap what you've sewn here mate.

as said above ... the use of people who do this difficult job to be abused by your journalistic privilege is just disgusting and shameful.

enough said

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

standing on a bridge thats gone

Yesterday I decided to pull out the 4x5 and go off to try my photographic luck in an area where there is an interesting blend of ice, a bridge ruins, a water flow between lakes and trees.

I like working with my 4x5 because I can get images that are bigger and more detailed than even a Canon EOS 1Dn MkIII can produce. Sure its not something you can photograph the olympic gymnastics with, but then that's no what I do.

This is one of my "failures" on the day (and why should I put my success stories where poachers can steal them) Its a failure because I forgot to reset the front standard, its not as sharp as I wanted on the right hand side.


The ice along the stream edge and the reeds however are just where I want them.

In another location not far from there (out on the lake edge). I usually use my digital to make a metering assessment for my LF camera (and it comes in handy for colour balancing in colour negatitve work sometimes too). This is what I got with my G1:


which is a nice image, but I wanted a more abstract look and didn't want such a busy image with more or less everything in focus.

The 4x5 camera of course using a 180mm lens has nowhere near this sort of depth of field (even if I wanted it), instead one needs to apply some tilt (lens plane or back plane) to get things in focus.

I decided that I wanted to get rid of the focus on the ground snow detail and instead focus on the tops of the grasses and the tree tops. This is what I got...


One of the features in this black and white film stock is that it does a great job in covering wide scene brightness ranges. This can be an advantage, but in this case it lacks in that it just does not get the subtle textures of snow in those foreground grasses. I took a colour negative shot too, but unlike black and white I don't develop that myself ... so we'll have to wait a while for that one to come back from the lab.

I like the control that I get with 4x5 and I like the fact that a half day of photography gives me 6 images. I can focus on them and give them more attention than I could have done with 3000 images.

So, its swings and (tilts?) roundabouts isn't it. I win on some areas, and have to give in on others.

Lastly I'll leave you with a "mistake" which I made, caused by leaving a sheet of anti-scratch paper on the film when I loaded it in the holder ... serendipity works wonders now and then ... despite it being soft looking (created by a thing sheet of white tissue paper infront of the film) I really like the look.

screwup 102

hey, and it was way easier than doing this in photoshop ;-) Of course the 'right one' looks good too..

Friday, 22 January 2010

colour, HDR, monochrome, and negatives

Recently I became aware of a blog on the works of an "unknown" American photographer called Vivian Maier.

Her work as an unknown street photographer is truly interesting to anyone interested in street photography, or in just glimpsing life from that part of time.

This image is one from that blog, and I also think its an excellent gague in how far photography has (or hasn't) come since that time 40 years ago.

This simple image shows how well a simple black and white negative captures interior and exterior light which would be impossible in any current digital camera without resortig to HDRI.

I think it was my second blog post on this blog where I discussed HDRI and negative.

I still feel that negative, especially black and white negative has not only a vast tonal range available to it, but can capture a vast "scene brightness range" which is impossible with digital sensors (though perhaps the Fuji SupperCCD which is used in the S3 and S5 cameras comes close).

Back in my first article however I compared digital to black and white, which I feel made a slightly biased case against HDRI at that time.

Particularly for work in colour.

TampereCathedralInterior2This image is a (good?) example of what one can do with HDRI in a challenging indoor lighting when wanting to stay working with colour and not get horrible casts or noisy shadows.

By taking a full range of the light, HDRI has helped to tame the issues of:

¤ the overhead lamps colour temperature
¤ keep some sense of details in the stained glass
¤ even out the tremendous differences in lighting
¤ keep the shadow noise under control

Just quickly, remember that film records light levels as a density range on the film (with negative its clear for no light and gets progressively darker with more light), with digital its just recording numbers representing the photon count at the sensor.

One of the real weaknesses of digital capture is that the count is linear in nature; unlike film which changes density in a logarithmic response to light.

This is actually how our eyes (and our other nerve system responces) work too. I think that almost everyone who has taken a picture outside knows that a camera can not record things both in the sun and under a tree as neatly as we see them.

Certainly Colour Negative film has a much boarder range of tones available to it than does digital, and this is easy to show. The image below is a montage of the digital (JPG) image and the results
of the 3 exposures (reference standard, +1 EV and +2EV) scanned together on my flatbed scanner (all in the same pass, so no individual optimization yet).


Straight away its pretty darn clear that the exposure blew the clouds out on the digital, but even on the 2 stops over exposed image there remains some texture in the clouds. The colours of each of the film shots are quite different to what the camera picked, but then that can be adjusted for (though as it happens I prefer the film look).

So even with a "regular back yard outdoor garden variety photo" such as this, digital just doesn't have the ability to capture the picture.

Ok ... lets be fair here, this digital image was sourced from a in-camera JPG, not taking a RAW image (say, can your camera even give a raw?). If I had taken a RAW then its quite likely that I could have processed this to be better (hint: read my latest blog post about the merits of RAW processing), but still not as good as the colour negative.

So, why not just use HDRI you say? I mean, I've clearly shown it gives better results right?

Well, as with everything there is a catch. HDRI requires you to capture multiple frames of differing exposures to assemble the brightness range that exists in the scene. It builds on the fact that the sensors are linear in capturing the data of the scene and so by capturing multiple images (and RAW is better for this) that with enough images the entire scene brightness can be compiled into a single image.

So as you need at least 2 (and I normally use 3 or 5 RAW captures) nothing better move in the image (including the camera) or you'll get nasty impossible to deal with artifacts.

Like this:


Now, if I was using a negative here then those walkers would either be blurs (not captured ghosts) or simply not appear visibly on the image. Far less disturbing than this. Of course there are some tricks, one can use an ND filter and ISO100 to ensure movement is really motion blurred in shots; that helps a lot.

So if I have come across as a recalcitrant in my blog post from long ago about HDRI I don't really mean to be that way; I do after all embrace new technology. I try to understand it, and make the most of it ... its just that I get tired of hearing how one technology has invalidated another.

Its even more striking to see how 40 years ago, a photograph like the one which I opened this post with can take what can only be equaled by a HDR today. Yet it was taken in a single unobtrusive snap and required little more to produce it than a few cents worth of chemistry to develop and simple apparatus to produce a print. Its worth noting also that the Vivian used a 6x6 roll film camera ... so optical elnargements (or scans of that film) today would likely be better prints than images from many of the common DSLR cameras in the shops.

For colour work I feel that digital has many advantages over colour (not least of which is processing) but for black and white ... well to paraphrase Mark Twain "the reports of the death of negative have been greatly exaggerated"

cos when it comes to black and white film there's life in the old girl yet.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

JPG and RAW processing swings and roundabouts

Last weekend we had a large family gathering which I was asked to photograph (since I used to do events and other commercial type photography in a past life). I picked my G1 as my main camera and thought I'd toss in my film EOS for a couple of shots (which actually I really wanted to get). As mentioned in my previous blog post there are some situations where a larger capture format (or among digital folks "full frame") just works better. If I had a 5D or other full frame DSLR I would have used that for the event not the G1 for just those reasons.


However this is not the main reason for the post, this time its (mainly) about the processing pathways of RAW and JPG.

I know that a number of professional photographers just use JPG as their main capture and shun the RAW workflow. Others do use RAW capture and often they are also people who have a team who work with them in post processing that for them. After this weekend I really see why that is.

Now normally I use JPG on the camera, picking RAW for just a few shots here and there, so as a result I'm not normally processing 300 images from an event so much as hand tuning five or six (perhaps) at a time.

Previously my workflow (don't you love that buzzword) has been to open the RAW in Adobe Camera RAW within Photoshop and then operate on the file. This was clearly not going to work for this situation or I'd still be chained to the computer working on images (as if I had nothing else to do).

what I mean by quality photography

One of the things I expect in a series of images is consistency,from one shot to the next (in the same situation and lighting) I expect;
  • consistent colour
  • consistent exposure

... to me nothing looks worse than faces and suits changing colour casts, contrast or tone.

It just looks like crap and is (part of) what separates the dopes from those able to deliver a good product to the client.

Now back when I got my first film camera with Av on it (we called it aperture priority back in those days) I soon found that my exposures were all over the joint and I wondered
"what the hell is the benefit of this automation if it gets in the way more often than not"
It didn't take me long to be lamenting my previous "match needle" light meter built into my (manual) 35mm camera (yes, it was an OM-1) and the way of using that I had developed. Heck compared to a hand held light meter that system was really handy automation.

I quickly learned to plop the camera in manual and just take meter readings occasionally (as lighting situations or lenses changed).

The next issue was proofs ... if I took a roll of film to a commercial lab I'd get a strip of 6x4 inch proof prints along with my roll of film. These were consistently exposed and reflected the exposure of my film (you can guess I was using negative here cos you don't bother with this on chromes / slides / E-6), by which I mean that each print was made with the same exposure from the negative that the previous one had been ...

Now this is totally unlike what happens if you take your images to a typical mini-lab at the supermarket / chemist / corner store ... there every bloody print is made by a machine which knows nothing about the previous print and thus tries to "optimize" each print. No matter how consistent YOUR SHOTS are the prints go back to looking like grandma's patchwork quilt (lovely as it is) not anything you'd be proud to show to anyone (if you have any shred of professionalism).

the real question

So, how do I process my 300 odd RAW files to meet my criteria of quality consistent results.

Well you've essentially got two choices use a product such as Lightroom (ohh, don't you have that yet? well .. just whack another couple of hundred down and add another few hours of your time getting to know it too) or you can use a free product such as dcraw (which is a command-line utility that actually is what is used as the engine for many RAW converters anyway).

Now, as it happens, I have my camera set so that RAW files contain an embed medium res JPG image that would be what the camera would have produced if I didn't use RAW. That is to say all the settings are applied to it including stuff like white balance, the "curves" the camera prefers and any lens corrections which it might apply (some cameras are doing this for you now). Naturally dcraw allows me to extract these JPG's (which then load nicely into something like irfanview) to quickly evaluate everything.

So far so good.

Now, because I set my white balance manually for each shooting situation, I can then use this value to tell dcraw how to apply colour to the RAW when domosiac occurs (eg when making an image I can do something with).

So armed with a few parameters I set it loose to convert my RAW files into 16 bit TIFF's for tweaking in Photoshop.

This is where I hit my first hurdle .... you see, dcraw is also a simple binary, so it can't make use of multi-threading. This means that if you happen to have a dual or quad core machine then its all going to just hog the one processor. On my box (1.4Ghz per core) this was taking about 2 minutes per image.

Fark (said the crow) ... 300 x 2 minutes is TEN hours.

So I killed this and thought about it for a bit.

Its worth mentioning at this point that each image as a TIFF at 16 bit is about 70Meg ... so I hope you've got some spare space on your disk for this cos thats 21 Gig right there.

So I though Ok, maybe I don't need need 16 bit ... after all, I didn't think I'd be making huge edits to the files, so 8 bit would be likely to be enough. To cut it down even more, I decided to go through and weed out my stuff to process only the files I wanted to convert.

All in all this brought processing down to just 2.5 hours

Time for going and doing something else while my machine crunches all this for me.

Getting back to Lightroom for a minute, a fellow I know who uses it says that he can use it to manage which images he wants to render to JPG and apply similar parameters to "groups" which were in similar lighting conditions ... thus it doesn't matter if the images were shot with the right light balance as I used above ... he can leave it on Auto White Balance (shudder) and ignore those parameters (while still getting lens corrections, something that dcraw can't do).

Ok, now two and a half hours later I still need to open my images in Photoshop and make any changes such as sharpening or colour tweaks (because I already know that my sensor does not make reds and yellows just where I like them for skin tones and I have not used any system to profile my sensor ... more about that topic here for example).

I have enough experience with Photoshop to know to sort this out on one image, then create an action to apply that across a batch of files, so I again don't need to sit there like a monkey (thank God).

This took me about 15 minutes to sort out, and then another 2 hours for the machine to grind away applying this to my subset of converted images.

As it happens I have a few computers in the house (... don't ask) so while I was allowing the PC to do this, I used my other PC to scan some of the film images on my LS-4000.

Thank God this has ICE as my negatives naturally came back from the "lab" (no professional labs round this neck of the woods) with fingerprints, streaks and some fine scratches running the entire length of the roll .. and no, its not my EOS that did that!

A few things came from this process:
  1. image processing of my negatives was a bit longer than that of the RAW
  2. all of the film images looked great, had better snap and better colour straight off of the film (heh ... he says)
  3. I am so glad I am not locked into scanner hell anymore, cos doing this in strips of 6 really takes my time for attended operations.

This last point makes me think (at first)
"why the hell don't I have a roll film adaptor to scan 36 at a time, unattended"
... which then reminds me of the time I got all the film processed and scanned by a lab with a Noritsu scanner at the time of developing. Dam they were great!

Seriously I got very high quality 6Megapixel images from my film for $15.00 per roll (processing and burning to CD) at the time of processing. No dust, no scratches and I still got the Negs if I wish to use them for optical enlargements or other uses.

Sitting here now I am thinkin ... Man I'd pay $9 extra per roll to save all this time!

So now I'm thinking
"has digital let us down, or did we shoot ourselves in the foot with it?"

Aren't these things meant to make our lives easier?

OK ... the computer beeps to let me know the final batch is completed and so I give them a quick look over and then send them off (via FTP) to a service to have them printed and posted back to me (man, there is no way I'm going to pay hundreds for a good desktop printer to have that to fuck about with ... inks to go dry, calibrations to perform...).

So a full day (and some of the evening) of my attention was needed to produce this result, so that the proofs can be posted off to my grandmother, and the CD's burnt for other relatives to get their own prints made if they wish.

Sitting here on the train to another town I'm thinking about all this process and wondering about all this.

I can really see why many professionals prefer to use JPG and save themselves all this hassle, but the problem is that having looked at the results of processed RAW files, I definitely got better contrast and colour out of the RAW images than I'd have got with the JPG.

For example, this is one I took in the beginning of winter (part of my 56 series)

Camera JPG

RAW lightly processed

Its not immediately clear what's different about those two images, but if you open them up into separate tabs and look around you'll see (as I've identified below) that I have much better shadow details in the RAW sourced image, while actually getting better contrast in the stone area where there was low contrast to begin with.

and this wasn't even an optimized (carefully exposed right) image for RAW, I've easily got another 1/3 stop of headroom that I didn't make use of (cos I was in a hurry and when it clips it gets ugly fast). Heck I've even added some curves to the JPG to make it less contrasty (and chosen a camera profile which was less contrasty ... and this isn't even contrasty by Australian outdoor landscape photography standards!

options and choices

Now looking at my weekends images (you know, the usual drama black suites and white stuff on white stuff) the camera JPG's however had superior noise processing (with little discernable loss in quality), so the in-camera processing there is superior to what I can do here (or I could spend more money and try Noise Ninja or something).

Another advantage of the in-camera JPG processing is that it is done in parallel to the capture process (and not to mention done by dedicated signal processing hardware), so by the time I get finished shooting I have finished products (more or less) ready to roll (and they take up less storage space than the RAW too). So assuming that you are able to get just what you want from the JPG first go then you're better off with that in many ways.

The question is, "should I just go with the JPG's and by not seeing the results of the RAW and never know what I was missing be happy, or should I spend the money (oh, I love this "Digital is free after you buy the camera" shit) on Lightroom yet another product (ohh, and need to upgrade my OS and hardware probably) to get a better work flow and stay chained to the desk??

Hmmm ...

kirstiHauttalle2Well just maybe, but when I look at the results of the negative film workflow (which just happend to make the loveliest prints) I'm left wondering ... you see the Negs produced images which (in the exact same conditions) have better shadows and held hilights better(in snow for gods sake) than the JPGs (by a mile) and in some cases the RAW too *(mainly in situations where I let the camera meter and didn't do it manually resulting in missing head room on the RAW).

Images such as this one from the 35mm negative turned out to be the sweetest images in the group (and didn't really need much more effort than the digitals)

If I could reliably get my C-41 processed and turned into scans as I have had by the above mentioned Noritsu process I would probably never shoot another wedding or funeral in digital again (and I know a few wedding photographers who've said just that before too).

So with many professional labs going or gone under (leaving us with no choice but to go for a full digital process, not a hybrid one which has film capture then digital for editing and printing), I'm wondering if Digital is having some hand in killing jobs and contributing to skills losses in our community (I dare you to find a professional photo finisher or high quality master print maker for me in your area).

Actually there are quite a many professional wedding photographers who swear by Cameras such as the Fuji S3 and S5 digital bodies for exactly the reason that the sensors capture as much as negative does (but of course are still stuck in the digital post processing mud like me).

For me as a photographer I now need to know heaps more about the process than I ever did before. Once I just needed to make a well exposed negative (or chrome), now I need to do almost everything in the process with the actual printing being done by machine from the file I send it.

So sure I love my digital camera, I have actually developed myself as a photographer in using it to enable me to take way more experimental images than ever I would have with film.

Clearly I can't say I don't want digital, but perhaps the hidden costs are spread further than we thought.

I recently saw a discussion where wedding photographers were being hit with a "per gig price" of $500 ... hah! Go out on site for 8 hours, provide all the gear, go home (cos you won't be affording an office at those rates) and process your ass off. You can hear the clients now ...
"well you don't have any film costs anymore".
Its no wonder that photographers like this are taking over the industry.

Ahh I remember the good olde daze, I'd shoot 12 rolls of chromes for an event, wander down to the proLab in town drop them off ... go grab a bite to eat, pick them up one hour later and sit down with the gig director to sort out in 20 minutes on the light table what was going to be put into the projector that night. Digital has made it all so easy now ... as long as you don't want the quality to go with that side order of new software.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

shallow normals

There is a Taoist proverb along the lines of "there is no journey without return", so no matter how far I journey down the digital road I like to make reference to 35mm film which was of course my origin in photography and perhaps ironically also my beginnings in "digital photography" because I was scanning film (since 1996) before I had a digital camera (in 2000).

This weekend I was photographing a family event and I was after some particular look and feel to my images, rather than the typical (to me) boring digital snapshots.

kirstiHauttalle2This image is from the weekend, to be honest its my personal favorite picture of my grandmother.

To me this image is enhanced so much by the soft rendering of the background, thus maintaining a background which still feels further back.

Telephoto fails in the second criteria (angle of view gives less background inclusion), and while backgrounds look blurred they produce a feel far more in close to the subject.

Nothing snaps out from the background looking three dimensional on a print like a normal wide open at this sort of range.

This is exactly where smaller digital formats (such as 4/3) let me down, because even if I had exactly the same focal length at f1.8 the 4/3 format would make the same sort of image as 35mm taken at f4. No matter how much I like my G1 camera

For me one of the real benefits of a larger capture format is that the larger you go the shallower the depth of field is for a normal lens.

Working at no more than a few meters from the subjects normal lenses allow you to capture full body portraits and larger formats allow you to get more blurred backgrounds without having the background seem snuggled up close to the subject.

Now this is the peculiarity of the comparison between 4/3 system and full 35mm sized frames, because in telephoto it works the other way, that is to say that 4/3 makes better use of telephoto because you get that bit more Depth of Field for the same f stop in what is already a very shallow field of view.

To demonstrate this I took two images at more or less the same time, from the same spot; one with my G1 using a FD 28mm lens at f2.8 (wide open as it gets)


and another with my 35mm camera using the 50mm lens at f1.8


now aside from the obvious aspect ratio differences (4/3 is 1:1.33 and 35mm is 1:1.5) even at these small post card sizes (on your screen) on the 35mm frame the swing chair seems to jump out of the image more than the one from the G1. Looking at them full screened (click any image to load that) it becomes more apparent.

Actually the 35mm film is from scanned negative, scanned on my LS-4000 Nikon. I don't have a full frame digital to make the comparisons completely. But this also assists in the notion of return as I can also make comparisons with the image quality and details.

Firstly the LS-4000 scans the film at 4000dpi, meaning that I get an image which is 5578 x 3671 Pixels rather than the 4000 x 3000 which the G1 gives. This is apparent in the image below where all the details are a little bit larger than on the G1 ... notice the amount of the swing visible in each.


So if I then scale the 35mm image to be 3000 pixels high I get almost total equality of feature size in the image.


even on these reduced size link images you can see that the background is more diffuse than the G1 image while the 35mm doesn't actually have much different levels of detail to the G1 image.

This is in keeping with my previous research where I found that film can still be cost effective when compared to high quality digital. Of course if you suffer from camera diarrhea then all bets are off and you may still be better off with film as it will slow you down.

There were some other lessons come out of my weekend, but that's another blog post.

see ya :-)

PS the astute will notice that the above screen shots are all compared at 50% not 100% ... well that's deliberate as I have found that comparing 50% on the screen is really quite similar to close examination of a print of the same image at 300dpi. In the case of the swings above from the 35mm that's a 45cm by 30cm print (17 by 11 inches for those without a calculator) which is (in my opinion) as large as you'd want with stuff like this and really, how often are you printing or planing to be printing larger?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

noise about film

Film ... hmmm ... you know I'm still scratching my head on this stuff.

The work for this post started out as being an exploration of formats, and ended up telling me more about working with colour negative VS digital in smaller formats (where you need to scan at higher resolutions).

I still use a 4x5 camera (especially for black and white) where I don't think my digitals can out do it so easily in detail (although if I had a 5D and TS-E lenses it will be really close) and certainly not more dynamic range than black and white negative (need HDR to address that).

Sometimes I still think about using 35mm film too ... now if I had a 5D or "full frame" digital camera I'd probably even more seldom think about using 35mm film, but I don't. Now as Full Frame handles normal to wide differently to smaller format digital I found myself wanting a shallower depth of field for a particular photographic style.

For example, I thought the other day (about an up coming family event):
"will I use film for some of the shots, or will I just use the G1 and some legacy lenses like my 50mm?"

My issue was background separation of people group shots. So I went to the car park and took some shots of my wife in a situation which will more or less be like where the family will be.

I was thinking that for a 'wide' lens like a 24mm I could get better background blur with 35mm than with my kit zoom on (at 14mm) wide open.

Shots like this one taken with a 50mm at f2 on 35mm film were great stuff ... providing emotion that would be missing with a perfectly clear background.


I was interested to see how well it would go with wide angles (as I might need to be in closer)

So ... This is an overview I took with the kit at 14mm


then I scanned my 35mm negative (200iso) on my LS-4000 (using my famous cunning method for getting better results than obtainable by using "colour" setting) but in close at 100% pixels an entirely different thing emerged to be in my face (more than the diffused background) .. noise.


NOTE: I scaled the film scan to be 3000 pixels high (as 4000dpi makes it a bit more) to make a better comparison keeping size and scale similar.

Dam, in this soft light the digital image is just so bloody clean.

What's going on here?
Because this was daylight film (don't know what that means? click here) it was quite tricky to bring the colour balance back to looking like the digital (took me about 10 minutes). Also the fact that I did not use a correcting filter on the film camera shows to me how much worse the noise gets in colour negative film when you mismatch the three component colours (blue signal was pushed hard as there was more blue light than red in the overcast and snowy conditions). This showed how well the digital does in coping with this in its auto colour balance.

Rather than describe this, lets look at the channels individually ...

channel cycle

I don't even need to tell you which one is the blue channel, and as you can see it sucks don't it ... this then gives rise to channel noise which results in speckles ... especially in the blue things in this case.

Unlike slide film, negative does not blow out as ungracefully with over exposure (same as digital really) but as the various channels get more different it gets filthy in there ...

result = noise

Getting back to the backgrounds for a minute, to me the G1 didn't really loose soooo much in diffuse background as the larger format film did and is hardly noticable on smaller prints (my guess is noone wil pick it), but the film looked ... gritty ... and looking at the blue tuke noisy.

If you like it great ... but it lacks in smooth textures (look at the skin tones in the shadow under the chin).

This is said by one who has some OM lenses (used on my G1) and still has an OM body as well as some Canon EOS film bodies and EOS lenses ...

So, now I need to wonder "is a 5D worth owning for the few places where its larger sensor provides advantages?"



Noons made an interesting point in his last question, so I thought I would post this here rather than just reply (as this way I can include a diagram).

The Nikon somehow produces images which are at a pixel level sharper than that from the Epson. I am not sure if this is only the LED light source or the optics on the scan head. In the image below you can see that the Epson (left) is somehow more diffuse and softer than the image from the nikon. The images below (link to) 100% views but are represented on this page at 50%, if you want to inspect the 100% click the link to take you to a flickr page.


Not only do you see the characteristic soft light look to the Epson but you see more noise in the blue on the Nikon.

Now that's not to say its actually less noisy, its only when you zoom in so that the pixels are taking up 4 pixels on your screen (well 4x4) that you can see that somehow at a pixel level the Epson is softer.


There is what I can only struggle to describe as some kind of Gaussian blur at a radius of a about 1.1 pixels present. So there is "blotchyness" there but is a little more diffuse and thus less obvious than the noise of the Nikon. Looking at the rim of the glasses you can see that the definition of the edge is sharper.

To demonstrate this I applied a 1.1 pixel Gaussian blur to each of the R G and B layers of the image from the LS4000 ... they're starting to look the same now aren't they.


In some ways the Nikon reminds me of what I see in drum scans. If you go back to my previous page where I compare drum scans of 35mm to my 10D here you will find this image (same negative stock btw).

This shows the same level of pixel colour noise (although presented differently) as I'm seeing on the Nikon LS-4000 (btw the scanner operator didn't think the amount of noise on the film was outstanding).

I suspect that this is related to the many compromises and cunning tricks that the designers of film have had to pull ... as the signal processing is in many ways built into the film layers and dyes. For instance (from personal communications with another author on the subject of characteristic curves of C-41 neg and the "masks") :

If you were to look at the H&D curve of a single layer cyan, you would see that it has green and blue density in addition to its primary red density. These are impurities.

By adding a variable green and blue mask to the cyan dye (the mask), the unwanted signal is turned into a constant value which is ignored during the printing process. You cancel the negative blue and green with positive and identical blue and green curves and get a constant that is at the dmin of those curves. Thus, the actual dmin must be orange as there is a red mask (blue + green correction) in the cyan layer and a yellow mask (blue correction) in the magenta layer.

So for extreme magnifications (like 4000dpi scans tend to be) I still have some reservations about negative films. I prefer their reactions to light levels (greater hilight preservation than slides) but find that they are complex animals to scan well (and peraps print well, but I've never done this).

I still am not sure what the answer to this is, but I'm left feeling that nothing is perfect in the world of colour photography, neither neg nor slide nor digital.

no wonder I like black and white

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

looks like snow...

What looks like snow from a distance ... but isn't


carParkTykkyWhile the UK and other parts of Europe seem to be stuck in "deep snow" here in Finland life goes quietly on with about the same amount of snow (perhaps a little more) as them.

Seems as good a time as any to discuss a kind of thing which we get here (more mainly in Lapland) which looks like snow but isn't.

It goes by the name of Tykky here.

The snowy cover on the trees in my front yard carpark is not infact snow, but is in fact a sort of ice crystal that grows on something cold. It seems to happen when the temperature is warming slightly, say from -20 to -10°C and the air conditions are very still.


You can see the classic snowflake shapes forming here, and if you look to the bottom of the gooseneck you can see one edge on ... they really are thin.

Pretty soon it can fester the entire thing its on ... tree or bike


this may look like snow, but its Tykky.

From a distance it looks like the object has been gently peppered with snow, but doesn't have the same look as road signs which have been hit by snow thrown up by trucks. Its light and fluffy. You can see it is a growth of crystals here even on this dead leaf when you get up close...


You can see it here too on the back of this tree ... of course it looks lovely on the trees


so now you know a new word in Finnish

Monday, 11 January 2010

G1 and large format

I was out photographing in the park with my 4x5 (felt inclined for a variety of reasons) and I took this image on ADOX CHS sheet with a Fujinon 90mm f8 @ f16


now, as it happened I was also taking images with my G1 and the kit 14-45 lens. In the case of the G1, I focused on the ice covered tree in the right hand foreground

... Dam it if the G1 isn't nearly as detailed as the 4x5

I took 2 sheets (as it happens) and confirmed focus with my x7 loupe each time I loaded a holder into the camera (nothing had moved). Stopping down to f16 from wide open can only make things sharper.

In these screen snapshots I've left the film at 50% view and taken 100% from the RAW file. My experience is that the film needs to have more pixels than a digital capture to equal it and 100% view of film scans is seldom (if ever) as good as a digital capture.

You'll see however that the 4x5 on the left maintains its shallow depth of field near the foreground object relying on tilt to get the background in focus. It results however in a foreground separation which is nicer than on the G1

and off in the distance ..

Now I've felt that my Fujinon 90mm isn't up to the sharpness I'd like (the Nikkor SW90 looms in my view every time ...) but you know I'm really impressed with how well the G1 went.

I am now even more keen to get a tilt adapter because on the case of the G1 images the f5.6 image was way and ahead sharper than the 4x5 was but I could not control the Depth Of Field needed to get foreground and background in focus in one shot with the G1 as I could with the 4x5 film camera. A tilt lens would do this nicely ... now all I need is a nice sharp 24mm and the ability to tilt and my stitched sets from the G1 will be fantastic!

I've had my 4x5 for some years now and it is only more or less now that the Digital (I've been able to afford) matches it.

Of course the 2400dpi scans of the film yielded more pixels than the G1, but the G1 file (TIFF from RAW) had as much detail so upscale would be quite ok. The 4x5 is ahead by a nose on other details but, I think that for many sorts of images I think the G1 (and many modern good large sensor cameras) can do nearly as well. Heck for the effort required to ensure a good 4x5 shot the large sensor digital does at least 90% as good.

I think I'll compare my FD 28 to the Fujinon 180mm tomorrow!

Worth mentioning here is that while it is possible to probably get better out of my 4x5 with a better scanner than my Epson 4990 (and trust me I do know how to drive it) and a better lens, it will absolutely require much more effort than the G1 took. Also its well worth noting that the capture range of black and white film exceeds the G1 by such a wide margin that HDRI is needed to match the film. But these may be do able assuming still conditions (which would be needed for the 4x5 to be sharp anyway...)

Friday, 8 January 2010

what happened to Ghandi

Once upon a time India was a place which (in my view) could hold its head high with its respect for virtues and morals. Leaders like Ghandi helped bring India out from under British (oppressive) Colonial rule and emerge as its own nation.

Indians can be proud of the responsible behaviour of men like Radhabinod Pal who in his role of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East after world war 2 was consistently holding the "dogs of vengance" back (who wanted to make Japan suffer for its crimes).

For some reason India is now following a different path, perhaps one of down the path of the rabid gaggling mob seeking a hanging (rather than the reasoned and peaceful paths of the afore mentioned greats of their history). Certainly this is being borne out in the present reactions to the situation in Australia over the tragic death of an India student. Cartoons such as this one published recently


do little to assist the problems and go some way towards making the division between the nations larger.

So far of the reactions I've read the best are from the Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland who condemned the cartoon, but called for calm saying:

"Look it's a cartoon, so I just think we need to keep it in perspective. We know we're not racist"

And Ted Baillieu who says the cartoon is
"unhelpful, but can understand the anger in the Indian community".

I have no doubt in my mind that you can find racist minded people in Australia, some of them born there, some of them Anglo background some of them from other ethnic backgrounds. But that doesn't make Australia a racist country.

The editor of the newspaper which published the cartoon suggests that Australia is reacting hysterically to this. Strangely I don't see anyone out in the streets burning flags as the Indians are wont to do.

He goes on to say:

"the anti-Australian sentiment will stop as soon as there is an end to violence against Indians in Australia."

"The day racist attacks stop, the day these criminals are brought to justice, you would not find any newspaper in India calling Australians racist," he said
strangely I just don't see that happening, although I'm sure that he'd like to believe it. It seems wejavascript:void(0) can't even make any complaint about cricket players without that being construed as racist. Perhaps we should stop playing cricket with them too?

A very nice post in the Age brings out the questions of double standards:

Urban Delhi spills into the state of Haryana, which is relatively well-off and with a population slightly larger than Australia's. In 2007, Haryana had 1252 homicides/manslaughters/dowry deaths, compared with 283 in Australia. More people were murdered in Haryana over dowries than in Australia for all causes.

Why aren't India's TV networks campaigning against the epidemic of death all around them? Why does it take a murder of an Indian overseas to stir their moral outrage?

Were they equally outraged 10 years ago when Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt alive in their car by Hindu extremists in Orissa? Or in 2004 when Australian tourist Dawn Griggs was robbed, raped and murdered by two taxi drivers after arriving late at night at Delhi airport?

Its easy to appeal to rhetoric when situations occur like this, but it doesn't really make for a clear picture. In fact it seems like the sorts of things that someone who has only ever lived in their own country and visited another would say. Its easier to label another place as racist if you don't have any other experience living anywhere else but home and you go to another place which doesn't treat you as a local.

But it seems that it is not only in rhetoric that India is on the expansion, as its military expansion is becoming quite significant, even its Navy is expanding. You can understand threats from Pakistan, but they don't have much of a ocean border there ... do they?

I wonder if as India is growing in power they are growing in arrogance?

I have been saying for some time that Australia is pursuing a dangerous course with the conversion of our Education sector into a money making sector. Perhaps its part of the Colonial heritage where the prisons had to turn a profit back to England ... I don't know. But recent events and problems have revealed that perhaps we should be taking far far fewer international students (at least until we know how to handle them).

Perhaps we should be looking seriously that India may make a move militarily on Australia, after all there's not that much between them and us over there on the West Coast (and a lot to be gained).

Perhaps thats just "impossible" in the modern world ... who knows.

I don't know, its really hard to be sure just what's happening in another country (especially one like India).

I have on occasions felt that the outside world is misrepresented within India, as quite a portion of the population do not speak or read English they rely on localised information sources. For example on one occasion back in 2000 when I was in India I was asked quite a bit "why does Australia torture assylum seekers?".

This turned out to be due to a local news paper re-interpreting the wording of an amnesty official commenting that "mandatory detention for such long periods amounted to torture".

well ... who knows how it'll turn out, but myself I'd be applying a little more of the precautionary principle here and considering the question of is the money we make in the Education sector worth the extra hassles?

I don't think it is ...

India is clearly ramping up the pressure at home with an Australian charged with "Attempted Murder" for shooting a fellow (who was pissing on his house) with an air rifle. Having seen other Indians do this to street dwellers while I've been in India I can't help but think this is an indication of the mood in India (IE pick on Australians). The above report suggests that:

Mr Jestin picked up his air rifle and pulled the trigger, hitting the man in the arm, the report said.

The Australian has been charged with attempted murder and has been remanded in custody, the paper said.

The injured man was taken to hospital.

Sure it was an act of poor judgement to do that but heck, attempted murder with an air rifle? Come on...

When I was there I was sick and tired of being harrased and targeted as a walking wallet for everyone to dip into. Indians behavior can be quite terrible at times, with a pervasive attitude of "rip off the tourist". Yet this is never addressed or the Australian news media start crying that India is a racist country.

Some Indian people have even defended racism in India saying that its a developing country ... huh? So they don't have the finances to be tolerant or polite? I guess Ghandi must have been rich...

So folks if you're in India, get out now, before it gets real bad. Looking at how things are going I think India is really declining.

Glad I've been, but looking at how its going I don't think I'll ever go again.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

the Sagrada

We went to Barcelona in Catalonia on our recent holidays at Christmas. Naturally we visited the Sagrada.

sagradaFrontFirstly let me say that no pictures can do justice to this structure.

It is simply the most intense combination of architecture and sculpture that I have ever seen.

Wikipedia has a brief history of the project (as it is still incomplete).

looking carefully at the oldest section of the Sagrada you can see that its not simply decorated with ornaments and statues but it is like an entire organic composite of artworks.

As it happens with a lot of sculpture the sculptor has decided that it needs to be looked at from directly below, rather than from across the street in this example.

Moving in closer totally changes the perspective on the art. So standing up there on the top of the stairs gives this perspective, with the statues looking more natural.


Things aren't only restricted to the iconography of christianity, with many things being represented, such as this hge snail element, one of a repeating sequence (all different).

Around the front, the sculpture is quite different (well it is some century later)


with a more modern look to it.


Getting into the Sagrada was a bit confronting, with the queue going around the block. However before abandoning this I asked someone at the head of the line how long it had been and it was only an hour. Fukit I thought ... its only an hour ... I spent as much getting OUT of Italy.


Getting in was so well worth it. The interior is simply stunning.

The central support columns are enormous and branch in a quite interesting manner. Looking at this image you can just see some people there on the yellow fence in the left hand side at the bottom for some scale. Looking up from that fence the ceiling is quite magnificent, with one portion nearly completed to give an idea of what the interior will be like.


Zooming in for more detail again you can see the glitter in the ceiling is from golden tiles.


there are fantastic repeating (almost fractal like) elements of the crucifix symbol and what can only be described as a spine.

Its hard to envisage the completed interior, but this image of one section near the entry (the one pictured above) shows a hint of the colours in the ceiling above and the stained glass.

Not all of the windows are fitted yet with the stained glasses (well, it is still a construction site). You can see some of the elements such as the spiral stair cases and balconies.

One very important note: don't stop at the chruch (construction site) interior, once you have looked enough there, there is a museum down below. This is well worth a visit and explains the architecture and how he designed the load bearing members (as well as heaps of stuff about the art). These include some great models to help you get the bigger picture until it is completed.



if you're in Barcelona, its a must see in my view.