Month: January 2013

Lightweight Infrared

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Infrared effect in Lightroom
Infrared effect in Lightroom

I made an interesting discovery last night as a result of seeing a friends work on Flickr. Ed, the friend in question (who will probably also be reading this at some point) is on Flickr as Vision and Light. His work is excellent but he recently added one image of pine trees in a forest that I find simply stunning. The image looked like it had been shot with an Infrared Camera but it turned out that it was captured on his GX1 and then converted to black and white in Lightroom using a Blue filter (http://www.flickr.com/photos/visionandlight/8421599676/in/photostream).

Now the blue filter isn’t something that I would naturally use as it tends to send most images very dark (unless you have a clear blue sky which turns white). As a result I decided to experiment a little with my own images and in particular the one above. Whilst the Blue filter and even High Contrast Blue filter didn’t work for this image the Infrared filter did. What made me really think however is that I have loads of Lightroom Presets (I have downloaded lots) but I never use them other than as an initial set up for some of my RAW files.

In the past I have tried quite a few different “standard” settings for creating that wonderful infrared look but none have been successful. This particular Lightroom preset (ships as standard in Lightroom) was quite different. When I looked at what was happening, it was quite different to most others I have seen. Whilst the Yellow and Green sliders had been pushed to +100% the Red slider remained at 0%. Unusually the Blue sliders also remained at 0% where the common wisdom is to reduce the Blue slider to say -50% to darken blues. Reducing the blue slider is something I don’t like doing usually as it tends to reveal low frequency noise in areas with lots of blue (such as the sky) and can be very difficult to correct.

So the image you see here is based on the Lightroom present for Infrared.  Have however removed the grain and made some fine tuning adjustments to contrast and exposure. With these changes made I then exported the image to Photoshop where I added selective blur to the highlights using Focal blade before final sharpening and printing.

The lesson in this for me is that I shouldn’t ignore ways of working such as using presets. The lightweight route is to minimise equipment and processing to achieve great results. I don’t think the Infrared route I have chosen (converting a GX1) is truly a lightweight route; the Lightroom option may have been better in some respects.

Last of the Snow (for now)

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RX100 being put through its paces in the hills near my house
RX100 being put through its paces in the hills near my house

Well the snow came as predicted but in nowhere near the volume warned by the ever panicky media. Where I live in Saddleworth the snow can really pile up and I have known the road across the moor to be closed for months with snow drifts deep enough to cover cars and vans. The 4-6 inches that fell at the weekend seemed more of a minor inconvenience than the predicted disaster.

Saturday then I took the opportunity to get out for a walk over our local hills and pocketed the Sony RX100. As the weather was cold and I was wearing gloves I thought this would be a good test of the new “Half Case” I had bought to give me a neck strap for the camera (something that is missing for the box when you buy an RX100) and to help with gripping the camera.

I had looked at quite a few camera cases before I decided to purchase the genuine Sony accessory. I have to report that despite being what I consider to be overpriced for a leather case, it is excellent quality. It isn’t too bulky even with the top half of the case attached. The press-studs attaching the top half of the case to the bottom are strong and well placed. The neck strap is thick, strong and well attached. The camera fits snugly in the lower half case and there is sufficient dept to the case to then attach this to a tripod mount. This solves the problem that the adjustment ring around the cameras lens can’t normally be used on a tripod as it is flush against the tripod mounting plate. All in all I am impressed with the quality and ease of use.

The image you see here was one of those I captured at the weekend (the snow was gone the next morning).

I shot this using the 16:9 format in RAW. When I opened the RAW file in Lightroom I was surprised to find the image was full sized but had a crop in place to make it 16:9, but I could adjust this. Selecting the 16:9 therefore just helps with composition by adjusting the rear screen of the camera. This is a different approach to the LX5 which actually changes the dimensions of the RAW file. I am not sure how the other format options are interpreted for the Sony but I will check when I have time.

The post capture processing for this image was performed using Lightroom and Viveza 2. I hope you like it.

RX100 Processing Error – Oops

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Another very deatailed scene captured with the RX100. Fine details have been well rendered but its easy to push things too far
Another very deatailed scene captured with the RX100. Fine details have been well rendered but its easy to push things too far

In my earlier posting about my experiences with the Sony RX100 I mentioned that the results were very sharp and that when printed looked almost unreal. Well, I have a confession to make in that the error was mine it appears.

In the past I have used a number of RAW converters and I often returning to these to see how various images are processed. Lightroom is my all round favourite and where I do most of my RAW conversion. Previously I have used Capture One Express. When I created the image in question I thought the conversion had been done with Lightroom but it turns out I had actually converted the image with Capture One, saving it to be examined against the Lightroom version.

I can only think that I have either imported it in error or the auto importer in Lightroom has pulled it in. Either way, I then did my conversion to Black and White with Silver Efex but had picked up the wrong file.

Since I discovered this I have reprocessed the file, making the conversion from RAW in Lightroom. The results when printed are still very detailed but look much more natural. This was one of the reasons I switched from Capture One to Lightroom as I liked the natural appearance of Lightroom. Additionally I found the Phase One converter, whilst producing excellent colour and detail, also looked a little course when zoomed in at 200% or above. It was as if the converter had overemphasised dark pixels or even introduced some. Whatever the cause I didn’t like it and switched to Lightroom.

So what of the RX100? I remain convinced that this is an amazing compact camera. The images produced are very sharp and very detailed. When I get some more time in the future I will look at publishing a comparison of images using different RAW converters.

RX100 First Real Impressions

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Superbly sharp images from the RX100. Click to see larger image
Superbly sharp images from the RX100. Click to see larger image

Finally I managed to get out with the RX100 at the weekend and despite all the snow headed to North Wales with a friend. The light didn’t last long before the sky closed in with it starting to snow again. Fortunately I managed to get quite a few shots with the RX100 which has allowed me to assess its capabilities a little better.

Firstly the downside to using the RX100:

  • It’s a very small camera and it needs that leather half case to help with grip (I now have one on order)
  • It’s difficult to feel the shutter button, especially when wearing gloves
  • I miss the 24mm wide angle. 28mm is good but there were a few times that I found myself wishing for more

Now to the excellent stuff:

  • It’s a remarkably easy camera to use but better than that, it’s enjoyable and very intuitive. The more I use it the more I enjoy using it.
  • Size wise, its perfect to slip into your pocket
  • The sensor is lovely with low noise and a very high dynamic range
  • Image quality is exceptional

Image quality is the real reason I bought the camera and it’s simply amazing. The image you see with this post was shot with the RX100 and I can’t fault it. The quality looks like it’s out of my 5D and it produces the same size print. At ISO80 to 160 there is no visible noise, even when I set the noise reduction to off in my RAW converter. And whilst I am shooting RAW as always, the JPG’s are really very good and I would be happy to use them. This means I can take advantage of in camera HDR and other creative features.

The camera seems to resolve every little detail of a scene, especially in the first 20-50 feet. It’s not as good as the 5D with subjects in the far distance, which is really down to the laws of physics but it is so much better than I had hoped for. As for the lens, it is so sharp, even with finest details are sharply resolved. I actually printed the above image at A3+ and didn’t apply any output sharpening, only the usual RAW capture sharpening (and even then not much). The print is actually on the verge of looking too sharp and perhaps needs softening slightly.

The other aspect of image quality which you can’t judge from this image is the natural colours. Greens and blues are particularly good and far better than the LX5 or even the GX1 (although my latest GX1 is a big improvement on the one I had converted to Infrared).

As a pocket camera for a Landscape photographer or even urban work this is an amazing tool. And in case you were wondering just how detailed the full image is, here are three sections at 100% resolution with the only sharpening being light RAW capture sharpening.

Sample 1. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 1. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 2. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 2. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 3. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 3. Click to view at 100%.

Sony RX100 – A Good Question

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The LX5 is a great camera and will render fine detail in the landscape despite its "limited" resolution.
The LX5 is a great camera and will render fine detail in the landscape despite its “limited” resolution. Click the image to view larger.

Following my blog posting to say that I am upgrading my LX5 to a Sony RX100 someone asked the perhaps obvious question why I had picked the Sony. There are so many high quality compacts now coming onto the market, why this one. In answering the question, I couldn’t provide one overriding reason so thought it best to respond fully in this post.

The first and probably most important thing that I want to highlight is that not everyone has the same demands of a camera or places the same value on its functions and specification. If we did all think the same we would all be buying the same camera.

In deciding to switch to the RX100 as my compact camera I had a number of criteria that I weighed up. These included:

  • Size of the camera. It needs to fit in my pocket easily. This wasn’t something I could do with the LX5 once the filter adapter tube was attached. Surprisingly the RX100 is smaller than the LX5 and is much easier “carry anywhere”.
  • The camera must be able to shoot RAW and the RAW files work with my converters. With some of new cameras I would need to wait until support is added to my converters or use the manufacturers’ software. Manufacturers’ software usually falls well short of the likes of Lightroom.
  • It must be possible to attach a filter adapter so I can use P sized filters. As I shoot mainly Landscapes this is essential. The LX5 used a bulky adapter tube but for the RX100 I have ordered a rather small neat solution from Lensmate which attaches to the front of the camera and isn’t bulky. I also noticed that some cameras just don’t have the ability to accept filters and there are no third party solutions.
  • Resolution was important to me. Whilst I thought the LX5 was (and is) an amazing camera, I wanted more resolution, ideally a minimum of 14Mpixels. This was very important to me as I want the option of producing very large and detailed prints. I know I can resize the LX5 to 24 inches and perhaps 30 inches with some images but I don’t always want to be resizing images. The RX100 produces +18 inch prints at 300dpi out of the camera.
  • Low light capability. The RX100 is superb in this respect. Probably due to its 1” sensor that isn’t too much smaller than the Micro 43 sensors.
  • Image quality and detail. For this I simply downloaded sample RAW files from the internet. I was impressed by some cameras in terms of colour and lens sharpness but the Sony just blew me away.
  • Ability to throw the background out of focus. This is better than the LX5 and many other cameras due to the larger sensor.
  • Macro capability. The RX100 isn’t that great hear but it’s much better than the Canon G1X which was another camera I considered. I also have the option of fitting a close up lens (52mm screw in) which I already own from years ago.

My suggestion if you are thinking of changing your camera is to work out the features that are essential to you and place them in order of priority. You can then rank the various cameras against these.

There were some aspects of the RX100 that I wasn’t happy with and perhaps I will have to learn to tolerate:

  • Because of its small size and shape it isn’t as easy to grip with 1 hand as the LX5. I think however that a leather half case will resolve this if I can manage to take out a second mortgage to pay the inflated price of the Sony case (but it’s really nice).
  • The wide angle 28mm is limiting. I would have liked the zoon range to be 24mm – 120mm.

And if you are wondering, no I’m not selling the LX5, at least not for a while yet as it’s still a great camera and there is just something about it that I can’t put my finger on.

Dfine Noise Reduction Book Launch

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Sample LX5 Image from my book. This is one of the worked examples which can be downloaded as a full resolution - you need to do your own B&W conversion however.
Sample LX5 Image from my book. This is one of the worked examples which can be downloaded as a full resolution image – you need to do your own B&W conversion however.

I am very pleased to announce that my new book “How to Avoid and Remove Image Noise with Nik Dfine 2” is now live on Amazon and priced at only USD3.99 or GBP2.54. The book is organised into three parts:

  • Part 1 examines the sources of noise in digital photography and outlines the steps you can take to prevent or minimise it
  • Part 2 covers the Nik Dfine software, how it operates and how you can improve its performance over the default settings
  • Part 3 covers two worked examples and is supported by two full resolution images (including the one above) that can be downloaded from my Lenscraft website

I have long believed noise avoidance and reduction is a key skill and one that will make your work stand out from the crowd when done correctly. Nik Dfine is just one of three noise solutions I use (the other two are Neat Image and Topaz DeNoise) and produces very natural looking results so is ideal for Landscape and nature Photography.

Because of the specialist nature of the book I can only release it electronically. But don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle as Amazon provide free Kindle reader software for the PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android platforms.

Upgrading my LX5

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This image has nothing to do with my upgraded camera other than its the type of image I will be shooting. The weather has been so poor that I just haven't been able to shoot much. Very frustrating.
This image has nothing to do with my upgraded camera other than its the type of image I will be shooting. The weather has been so poor that I just haven’t been able to shoot much. Very frustrating.

I have mentioned here before that this will be the year that I finally upgrade my beloved LX5. Not because it doesn’t perform but because it’s being surpassed by new technology that has a lot more to offer me. My intention however was to earn the cost of the upgrade by selling Microstock, something I had promised to blog about in the future.

Well I have been signing up for Microstock and starting to submit images but I will talk about this in the future. What I want to share today is that I have already taken the plunge and purchased a new compact camera. The funding came from an unexpected source; I had sold some camera equipment on eBay last October but I was so busy at the time I had forgotten to withdraw the funds. What a great surprise, especially as it has enabled me to purchase a new Sony RX100.

The new camera arrived on Saturday so I haven’t been able to shoot any useful material (certainly nothing I would be happy to publish) so you will have to make do with a completely unrelated image. Hopefully I will be able to capture some example images this coming weekend if the weather allows.

Initial impressions of the RX100 are very good although I think I will need to adjust my shooting approach from the LX5. The camera is well built with the exception of the battery door cover which feels quite flimsy. Quite surprisingly the camera is smaller than my LX5 and fits in my pocket much more easily. Perhaps it’s even a little too small which is making it tricky to shoot using only one hand.

Whilst it’s a little early to say, the image quality appears to be very good. I do need to remember to stop down a little further than f/3.5 I am used to using with the LX5 however as the depth of field isn’t as great. The RX100 has quite a large sensor that’s not much smaller than a Micro 43 sensors. I still find it hard to believe however that Sony has managed to squeeze this into such a small body and give it 20Mpixel.

At the moment the RX100 is looking like an impressive package although I need some time to really put it through its paces. I will report back in the future, but to me this is the future of Lightweight Photography.