Digital Photography

Sensor Cleaning

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Langdale Pikes. Captured using the Sony A7R.
Langdale Pikes. Captured using the Sony A7R.

To be quite honest I had almost forgotten about the problem of sensor dust and dirt until recently. Since I began using the Olympus EM5 in April 2013, I have cleaned my camera sensor a grand total of 0 times. Yes that’s ZERO times. It has never shown a single spot on any of the images. I don’t know how Olympus has managed to create such wizardry but they I wish they would sell the secret to some of the other camera manufacturers. Allow me to share some of my other experiences in trying to keep my camera sensors clean.

If I go back to my main camera prior to the EM5, it was a Canon 5D MKII. This did suffer from a few dust spots and required a clean every few months. The method I used at the time was a sensor pen that was very similar to the lens pens you see on sale now. It was sold for a few pounds from 7 day shop and was good for multiple cleans. This was an incredibly effective cleaning method and I always ended up with a spotless sensor that seemed to hold off becoming dirty for a reasonable duration.

Unfortunately these pens went out of production and I needed something else. I turned to the Arctic Butterfly brush. This seemed quite effective when used with the Canon and life seemed simple. Shoot for a few months watching out for the return of dust spots then clean with the Arctic Butterfly and start shooting again.

But life became frustrating again when I bought the Nikon D800. This seemed to be prone to a rapid build-up of spots on the sensor that seemed very stubborn. The once effective Arctic Butterfly seemed shift only about half of the spots. After only a few weeks with that camera I decided I needed to use a different cleaning method and turned to VisibleDust green sensor swabs. The swabs came with different cleaning fluids for different forms of sensor dirt. I chose a cleaner called Smear Away that was supposed to clean any oil spots that might have been created by the mirror mechanism. I have to say that these worked well for the short time I had the camera but they are possibly the least economical solution I have ever used, especially given how quickly the sensor became dirty.

Now I have moved on to the Sony A7R and I am finding the sensor also accumulates dirt quite quickly. After a few outings I have seen the return of the sensor spots. My solution was to turn to the Arctic Butterfly again. All seemed well until I returned from my last trip to find some very strange marks on my images. You can see an example below.

You can clearly see the oil smear in the sky
You can clearly see the oil smear in the sky

On closer inspection I have found this to be oil. My suspicion is that its oil left over from cleaning the Nikon D800.

It’s a little annoying as I now have quite a few images from my last trip to clean up. I also needed to return to the Green sensor swabs to clean off the oil, which they did very effectively although I have noticed a further problem with the Green swabs. They don’t clean around the edges of the sensor very well. My suspicion is that the ends of the swab are actually quite soft and this prevents you being able to clean the edges well.

But fear not I have found a new alternative on Amazon

This is the “XCSOURCE 10pcs Sensor Cleaner Cleaning Swab Kit”. Given I was paying £16 for 4 green swabs, 10 swabs for £9 seems like a bargain. I can still use the sensor cleaning fluid I used before but it’s the construction of the swabs that I like most. The cleaning material is pulled tight over the swab which means it’s quite ridged on the corners allowing you to clean right up to the edges of the sensor. You can see a picture of the two swabs side by side below.

New swab on the left and one of the old green swabs on the right.
New swab on the left and one of the old green swabs on the right.

I’m impressed and my sensor is now spotless.

And one added bonus is that the full frame swabs that I’m using are also compatible with Micro 43. If the Olympus EM5 ever dust get a dust spot on it I now have the means to clean it.

Telephoto Solution

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The Band and Bowfell
The Band and Bowfell

In my previous post I explained the problem I had encountered using the Canon 70-200 L f/4.0 with the Sony A7R. Whilst I did think about simply buying an identical replacement lens, in the end I decided that I couldn’t justify the expense as I seldom use Telephoto lenses in Landscape work.

The first alternative that I tried was an old Canon FD 70-210mm f/4.0 lens. It cost me the total of £28 and the adapter was £10. When I tested the lens I found that I needed to stop it down to f/8.0 to get it sharp into the corners but that it did then perform very well. At least it performed well up to around 150mm. The lens was also quite small and relatively light compared to the 70-200 I had been using. I still have this lens and will keep it (given the low cost) but felt that it wasn’t the right solution to my telephoto needs.

I then found a second hand Canon 70-300 EF f/4.0-5.6 IS USM for £200 which was described as condition 9+ by WEX (which is almost like new). Now I had owned one of these lenses in the past and had been pleased with the performance on the 5D MKII but wasn’t sure how it would perform on an adapter attached to the Sony A7R which has a 36Mpixel sensor.

This last weekend I got the answer – very impressive.

The image you see at the top of this blog is a three image stitch using this lens. At 300dpi the image measures 45” x 15”. What’s really impressive is that if you zoom in to 100% magnification and look around the scene, you can pick out various groups of walkers on the mountain. In fact I have taken a screen grab blow to illustrate.

Example 1 - Walkers on the hill
Example 1 – Walkers on the hill
Example 2 - Walkers on the hill
Example 2 – Walkers on the hill
Example 3 - Walkers on the hill
Example 3 – Walkers on the hill

In short, this lens can produce incredibly sharp images (even ignoring the low price). What I have noticed though is that it’s very easy to ruin your shots with this lens on the Sony A7R due to vibration. So to finish, here are a few of the things I found myself doing:

  • It doesn’t take much wind to make the lens vibrate (even on a tripod) so try to shelter the lens and shoot when there isn’t any breeze.
  • You really do need to use a cable release on the camera. It’s no use being lazy and just using the release button.
  • You should still try to achieve fast shutter speeds even on a tripod.
  • When you reposition or knock the camera, allow at least 5 seconds before taking the shot. This allows time for any vibration in the lens to subside.

Please Read – Dire Website Problems at Lenscraft

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Olympus EM5, ISO200, f/8.0, 1/8". Handheld.
Olympus EM5, ISO200, f/8.0, 1/8″. Handheld.

The Lenscraft website is down yet again although this time I triggered it.

Regular readers may recall some of the problems I have experienced over the past 12 months. In this time I have repeatedly upgraded the site and hosting package to cope with problems. At the same time the support from my hosting company has become sketchy. In recent months the site performance has dropped to what I consider to be an unacceptable level and there has been increasingly regular periods where the site has gone down for no reason.

Over this last weekend two things happened that demanded action. Firstly my email accounts for Lenscraft stopped working. I couldn’t even log in via webmail as the email server reported that it was running too slow to allow me access and I am still waiting on a response to this. Secondly I receive my annual renewal for the hosting and it was large. So large in fact that I can’t afford to continue running the site.

My response has been to find a new hosting company to work with and so far they have been excellent. They have migrated Lenscraft onto their servers and my testing confirms its working as it should. My next step was to have the domains migrated and have the Lenscraft domain pointed to the new hosting company.

And this is where my problems have started again. The domain has transferred successfully but continues to point to the old hosting company who have now closed my server. The new hosting company is working hard to help correct the issue but at the moment I’m not sure whenI will have this resolved. The result is that the Lenscraft website is down, I can’t send or receive email from Lenscraft and if someone sends me an email, it simply vanishes without even reporting a failure to them.

So if you have emailed me and are wondering why I haven’t replied, it’s because I can’t receive your email. If you need to reach me please use my personal email ( until Lenscraft is back.

What a week!

New Topaz Texture Effects

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Olympus EM5 with post processing in Topaz Texture Effects
Olympus EM5 with post processing in Topaz Texture Effects


Sony A7r with post processing in Topaz Texture Effects
Sony A7r with post processing in Topaz Texture Effects

Have you seen the new Topaz Texture Effects yet?

This is a new plugin from Topaz that allows you to blend textures with your images as well as add many more effects. I’m having quite a bit of fun playing around with it as you can see from the images above. The effects are quite similar to those produced with Nik Analog Efex which I love, but I am already preferring the Topaz program. I think it helps photographers move their work from traditional photography to photographic art.

As you all know, I like to be lightweight in everything I do and not just camera equipment. Well this program really helps. Previously you needed to do a lot of editing with Layers in Photoshop to achieve results like you can with Texture Effects. This is a real time saver and I can think of lots of applications, particularly in creating those retro styled images that have become so popular recently.

If you are interested in trying out program there is a link below. You can download the trial version or take advantage of the introductory discount which is on offer until the 20th November.

Link to Topaz Texture Effects

My first thoughts

The first thing that struck me on starting the program is the interface has been redesigned and is now clean and modern. Whilst this is a new program from Topaz, they have improved their existing interface designs. The usual features such as the presets browser are all still there. This makes me wonder if they will be changing some of their other plug-ins to move to the new design. I hope so as it’s very easy to use and navigate.

Once your image opens in Texture Effects you can select from a large number of predefined effects on the right. You can see an example below.

Interface 1

As well as the predefined effects that ship with program you can also create your own as well as share effects with other Topaz users. This is very handy given the huge range of effects that can be created. Once you have selected a preset you can make further adjustments to the settings. You can see this in the screenshot below where the Basic adjustments are being tweaked.

Interface 2

Whilst the plug-in is called Texture effects it provides much more adjustment than just being able to add Textures. Possible adjustments include:

  • Basic Adjustment to exposure, saturation, temperature etc.
  • Blend Textures into the image
  • Add simulated Light Leaks
  • Split Tone your image
  • Add areas of Diffusion
  • Add an Edge Blur effect
  • There’s also Film Grain simulation, Double exposure, Borders, Colour Overlay effects as well as the ability to add Dust and Scratches to age the image.

You can see some of these options being added in the screenshot below.

Interface 3

It’s also worth pointing out that you can add an effect more than once. For example you might want to add a couple of different light leak effects to the same image – no problem.

The program ships with a lot of textures, overlays and effects and it looks like you will be able to download more in the future. In addition to those supplied you can import textures, light leaks, dust and scratch effects that you have purchased from other sites. You can see an example of texture manager for Light Leaks below.

Interface 6

The overall effect can be blended into your image using a global mask or you can select areas of the image to mask out the effects from. You can see an example below.

Interface 5

In addition to the Global Mask tool, each of the effects also has its own individual mask that you can use to control the individual effect and how its applied to the image. What I really liked in the mask though is that Topaz has introduced a spot adjustment tool in addition to their traditional brush masking tools. The spot tool reminds me a little of the Control Points used by Nik.

I think this is a great package, even without the current introductory discount. Topaz have really thought this one though and produced a winner.

Friday Image No.71

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Sony RX10, f/4.5, 1/30" at ISO400. Handheld.
Sony RX10, f/4.5, 1/30″ at ISO400. Handheld.

I love trees and last weekend went for a walk in the Peak District, above and then along the banks of Derwent reservoir. The autumn colours were quite spectacular but it’s this tree that captured my attention. The bark was a wonderful silver blue colour and seemed so smooth. I’m not sure that it comes across clearly in the image but I still wanted to share it.

Have a great weekend everyone.

A New Brush for Lightroom

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View above Derwent Reservoir in the Peak District. The long focal length used for this image created a lot of haze which the new Dehaze feature in Lightroom removed. Sony RX10, ISO80, f/4.5, 1/125".
View above Derwent Reservoir in the Peak District. The long focal length used for this image created a lot of haze which the new Dehaze feature in Lightroom removed. Sony RX10, ISO80, f/4.5, 1/125″.

Firstly I would like to say a big thank you to everyone for your support with yesterday’s problem. A number of people also emailed me to say don’t worry about 1 star reviews where there is no comment (“no one ever pays attention to these”). Unfortunately the sales data suggests people are swayed strongly by a 1 star review, even with a low priced book. I guess they don’t want to waste valuable time and I can’t blame them. Fortunately the problem is now resolved so thank you.I would like to emphasise that I am always open to new ideas for future books and articles so please feel free to contact me.

Now to the subject of today’s post – Lightroom. Have you noticed there has been a new release of Lightroom over the past few weeks? If not and you are using version 6 (or are a CC subscriber) you might want to take a closer look.

When Lightroom 6 launched there was a lot of publicity about the new merge to HDR and to a lesser extent merge to Panorama. What didn’t receive much attention the new “Dehaze” feature.
Now if you are a Landscape Photographer this is a great tool. It seems to cut through the atmospheric haze that can often occur. But equally and very usefully, it can also introduce the appearance of haze. Unfortunately the slider control (found under Effects) is a global adjustment and so will act on all areas of your image.

What this latest release of Lightroom has introduced is a Dehaze control into the Gradient and Brush tools. This means you can now apply the adjustment to selected areas of the image which opens up a lot of new options. The global control is great for removing haze but isn’t good for introducing it. But make a selection with the Brush tool and you can increase the feeling of depth in your image or even simulate fog.

If you haven’t tried this tool yet you really should.

I Need Your Help Please

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Salar de Uyuni salt flats at dawn, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni salt flats at dawn, Bolivia

I recently published a book on Amazon called “Photoshop Layers: Professional Strength Image Editing”. It took many hours and days of effort over a 6 month period to develop the end product and I was very pleased with the end result. It was actually doing quite well until it received its first review. The review gave it 1 star and quite simply said “Do not waste your money in this book.”

In all honesty I believe the book is a lot better than 1 star but the review, as you can imagine is putting people off despite the very modest pricing.

If you have you have purchased the book from and you like it, please help me out and post an honest review. I’m hoping this will help give potential readers a little more confidence and means that it’s worth my time spent developing these books.

Thank you