Month: August 2013

Looking Closer

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Close up with the macro function on the 12-50mm Olympus kit lens.
Close up with the macro function on the 12-50mm Olympus kit lens. The shallow depth of field has been exagerated a little with OnOne FocalPoint software.

I have to start this blog post with an admission. I have been purchasing new camera equipment again. This time it’s the Olympus 60mm macro lens. I had promised to buy myself one of these when I sold my Canon 5D MkII, but then thought I couldn’t justify it.

Macro isn’t my usual style of photography but on my recent trip to France I spent some time in a botanical garden photographing the flowers. I didn’t achieve anything spectacular (or even close to spectacular) but I did enjoy myself. The experience convinced me that I should buy the lens.

The image you see above was shot using the 12-50mm kit lens from my Olympus OMD. This has a macro button on the side which is surprisingly good at getting you close to subjects. It’s not as sharp as a dedicated Macro lens but it certainly provides better magnification than simply using a telephoto lens.

Another alternative I had looked at was a Raynox DCR-250 macro adapter that will attach to the front of other lenses. This was good value for money but the results from the 12-50mm kit lens are much better. If you have a micro 43 camera and would like to try macro photography but don’t want the expense of a dedicated macro lens, these options might be worth a look.

Once I have managed to capture some nice images with the Olympus 60mm macro lens I will post a few samples.

Comparing RAW Converters

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I agree this isn't a photogenic subject but that's not the point. This is an ideal subject to compare RAW converters.
I agree this isn’t a photogenic subject but that’s not the point. This is an ideal subject to compare RAW converters.

In case you weren’t already aware, not all RAW converters are equal. Some are quite automated and easy to use whilst others have lots of options and take a lot of effort to achieve the best image. The other day, someone contacted me about my recent Photoshop book and asked if I would consider a future book or tutorial about DxO Optics, a well respected RAW converter and with good reason.

Now, I haven’t used DxO for some time, as it used to be very slow on my old computer and often crashed when loading lens/camera modules. I decided to download the latest version and use the trial from the website. Here is a very quick initial impression based on what I want to see from a RAW converter – absolute image quality and detail resolution.

The image I used to judge the performance is the one you see above (the black and white conversion was done in Silver Efex Pro after the conversion from RAW). This image was captured on my Olympus OMD using a 45-200mm Panasonic lens at around 200mm and an aperture of f/8.0. I should also point out that I was stood on a moving boat at the time and the shot was handheld. This isn’t a recipe for a sharp image now that I think about it.

The first image you see below is a screen grab from my computer showing the before and after adjustment, which is one of the screens available in DxO Optics. If you click on the image below it will open a larger version which is easier to see and judge.

Before and After comparison screens in DxO
Before and After comparison screens in DxO. Click to enlarge.

Looking at this, I was very impressed. The fine detail was well rendered and the lens module did a great job of removing the slight barrel distortion in the lens. Below you can see a section of the image at 100%. Again if you click it you can view the image properly.

Sample of DxO Converted image at 100%
Sample of DxO Converted image at 100%. Click to enlarge

All this was achieved automatically and I was on the verge of reaching for my credit card when I thought let’s see how Lightroom 5 fairs with the same image. Below you can see a section of the Lightroom version magnified at 100%. This time I did a little more tweaking but the distortion has been removed automatically and the sharpening setting is the default.

Sample image converted with Lightroom 5 and viewed at 100%. Click to enlarge.
Sample image converted with Lightroom 5 and viewed at 100%. Click to enlarge.

To be honest there isn’t a whole lot of difference but I feel Lightroom has the edge. The fine detail and tones are retained better than with DxO. It also appears a little sharper although to be fair to DxO, I didn’t apply any additional sharpening as I felt that it tended to degrade the image slightly.

Finally, I decided to convert the image in Photo Ninja, which as I have previously mentioned on this blog, tends to render fine detail better than Lightroom. Here is a section of the image at 100%; you can again click on this to view the larger version.

Sample of image viewed at 100% having been converted in PhotoNinja. Click to enlarge.
Sample of image viewed at 100% having been converted in PhotoNinja. Click to enlarge.

Wow! This is clearly a superior image in terms of how the fine details have been rendered and retained. I also didn’t put a whole lot of effort into this conversion, simply accepting the defaults.

So, whilst your choice of RAW converter will be determined by your needs, preferences and circumstances, if you are looking for out and out sharpness and fine detail rendering, Photo Ninja appears to win out.

If anyone knows of a better converter in terms of image quality I would love to hear.

Image Fact Sheet Launched

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Captured on an Olympus OMD with 14-45mm Panasonic lens. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Captured on an Olympus OMD with 14-45mm Panasonic lens. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

Something I said that I would do a few weeks back was to explain more about how I created this image, as well as explain some of the creative decisions I made. Well, I have put all the information into a new Image Fact Sheet, which you can download for free from my Lenscraft website. You don’t even need to sign up as a member (although it would be great if you did – membership always has been and will be free).

I hope you find the new fact sheet useful. I plan to publish more of these in the future and will announce them here when I do.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Back to the Future

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Captured on an Olypus OMD EM5 with Panasonic 45-200 lens
Captured on an Olypus OMD EM5 with Panasonic 45-200 lens

Back in the 1980’s there was a company in the UK called Athena. They had shops in many high streets and produced what at the time was amazing artwork for people to hang on their wall. I remember as a teenager having two pictures (purchased from Athena) of a Porsche 940 and Lamborghini Countach hung on my bedroom wall.

If you went into any of their branches they would have a huge selection of artwork and cards for sale with some of the most iconic (for the 80’s) images and there was nothing else like it. There was the famous image of the lady tennis player scratching her behind that I’m sure graced the wall of many a student bedsit. There was the image of a woman’s mouth biting a cherry as her lip dripped (not as gruesome as it sounds).

There were also images of spectacular and tranquil landscapes taken from far away exotic places such as Greek beaches and Monument Valley in the US – please remember that I was 21 before I could afford a trip beyond the UK and the world back then was not as small as it is today. I remember looking in awe at these images and wishing for 2 things:

  1. I could visit some of these locations
  2. I could take photographs that were this beautiful and amazing

This second point was rather unusual as at the time I didn’t do photography, although I had always wanted to try. The equipment was however far beyond what I could afford and in any case, everyone I spoke to about my desire told me how difficult it was to use an SLR and that I should forget it. Nothing like giving a kid encouragement.

So, why am I telling you all this?

Well, yesterday I created the image you see above whilst preparing an illustration for a book. Whilst this image is not my usual genera, I do like images of flowers and I quite liked this one having made my adjustments in Photoshop. In fact it looked great on screen and I decided to run off a quick A3 print on gloss paper to see what the printed image would be like. The result I thought was exactly what I wanted to create and perhaps this was a new direction in which to develop my style.

When my wife came into my office. I asked her if she liked the image. She paused and said “yes it’s nice”. Then she paused again and said “but it’s a bit retro”.

“What do you mean” I said, “RETRO?”

Her reason for thinking it was retro was because it “looks just like those images from the 80’s that Athena used to sell”.

I’m now wondering if I have finally achieved something that I have always subconsciously aspired to or if photographic tastes are about to go full circle.

I hope you like the image.

 

Version 2 minus a couple of distracting blobs
Version 2 minus a couple of distracting blobs

New Photoshop Book Launch

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Cover of my new Photoshop Book
Cover of my new Photoshop Book

I’m very pleased to announce (and with great relief) that my new Photoshop Book “Essential Photoshop: How to use 9 essential tools and techniques to transform your photography” is now live on Amazon (here is the link to it Amazon.com for US readers). The book is designed to support beginners and those who are not confident users of Photoshop, progress to an Intermediate level as quickly as possible.

This book is a little longer than my usual guides at approximately 200 pages and presents a comprehensive, but easy to understand system for editing photography. It’s extensively illustrated, with numerous worked examples, all of which are supported by a download file from my website (www.lenscraft.co.uk). The download contains all the images for the worked examples, in Photoshop PSD format, with the layers still in place. This allows readers to see the actual edits that were made to the images, in order to produce the screenshots for the book.

The approach outlined in the book can be applied to all versions of Photoshop back to version 6 (or possibly earlier) which was released in the year 2000. It doesn’t however apply to Elements; that’s a future book.

The book is available in Kindle format for just $3.99 (£2.69). Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle device as you can download a free Kindle reader application for your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android device by following this link.

For anyone who is a registered member of my Lenscraft website you will shortly (depending when you are reading this) receive an email detailing how for a limited time, you can download the book for free. If you aren’t already registered, you can still register and receive similar notifications as I launch future books.

Happy editing.

A day at the Beach

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View across the bay from an old outlet pipe I found. (.5 miles in the distance is our destination some 3.5 hours later
View across the bay from an old outlet pipe I found. 9.5 miles in the distance is our destination some 3.5 hours later.

Yesterday was a day out at the beach but not as you might expect. The beach in question wasn’t really a beach but the tidal flats of Morecambe Bay. As not everyone reading this will be familiar with the area, here is a link to Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morecambe_Bay

The Bay has seen more than its fair share of accidents and deaths. The flats are littered with very deep quicksand and if the tide turns on you, you won’t outrun it even if you can avoid the quicksand. So why would I go to such a place? To walk across the bay with around 300 other fools.

Crowds of walkers crossing the bay
Crowds of walkers crossing the bay

There are and have been for many years regular guided walks across the bay which is around 9.5 miles. It’s not something that was high on my agenda (I like mountains not the flat) but as my wife wanted to do the crossing I tagged along with the Sony RX100 in my pocket. Actually it was around my neck as there was quite a lot of wading through water that was waist deep.

Wading across some areas of the bay
Wading across some areas of the bay.

Whilst I didn’t get a wide variety of shots the weather was great and the bay was strangely beautiful once you got away from the shore.

Black & White Converter Update

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In my last post I was vigorously outlining the benefits of the RX100 and especially the Low Light Hand Held mode. I also presented one of the images I had shot on my recent trip to France and which I had converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Well here is a new version of the image that I have just made using a new Black and White converter (new in that I haven’t discussed it before). I know I have introduced colour in there abut I like this muted tone effect.

Reprocessed version of my RX100 image discussed in the previous blog post.
Reprocessed version of my RX100 image discussed in the previous blog post. Click the image to open a larger version.

If you are wondering what the converter is that I used, it’s Perfect B&W. I expect to post more about these tools in the future.