Equipment

Sony RX10 Problem and Frustration

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Sony RX10, f/5.0, 1/100" at ISO80
Sony RX10, f/5.0, 1/100″ at ISO80
Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.0, 1/125"
Sony RX10, ISO80, f/5.0, 1/125″

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I didn’t post the usual Friday Image on Friday. My apologies for this but I am still battling with too much to do and too little time. I have fallen some way behind in responding to emails and queries as the numbers have shot up recently. I love replying to everyone but it takes time.

Anyway, I set out on a walk in the Peak District today with a camera. I was going to take the new G16 but in the end I went for the RX10. I really do love this camera but it’s been somewhat of a frustrating relationship. My first ever outing found that the white writing around the edge of the lens reflected onto my filters when the sun was at certain angles. The other major frustration I have is that the image stabilisation is poor. Sometimes I find myself keep checking if it is actually on.

It’s very easy to find the shutter speed has dropped below 1/25″ as I like to shoot at the base ISO of 80. I find that 1/25″ is pretty much as slow as I can risk, even at the wide end of the focal range (the camera has a 24-200mm f/2.8 constant lens). Below this and camera shake is evident and ruins pretty much every shot unless you are lucky. That’s one of the problems with a sharp lens, you notice the smallest of movement.

More recently I have become attuned to this problem and now push the ISO to 200 or 400. This goes against the grain with me as I always want to shoot at the lowest ISO and I hate noise. But you know what, even at ISO400 you can barely notice it and the image quality is that much better.

So this has been a bit of me rambling (pun intended) to tell you that the RX10 is one of the most enjoyable cameras I have and the one that I increasingly turn to when I just want to walk and can’t be bothered with different lenses.

More from the Canon G16

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Canon G16, F/4.0, 1/200"
Canon G16, F/4.0, 1/200″

In my previous blog post I shared some of my first impressions about the Canon G16 compact camera I had purchased. Today I would like to share a little more about my thoughts about the image quality. Of course these revolve around my approach to photography so may differ from how you would use the camera. None the less, it may prove useful to some of you out there.

First, how I like to use the camera…

Where possible I shoot at the cameras base ISO. You may be tempted to think this is the lowest ISO but this is not always the case. With the canon G16 the base ISO is ISO80. This should give the combination of least image noise and highest dynamic range.

I tend to use the wide angle end of lens a lot.

Many of my compositions need good depth of field because there are elements in the foreground and distance.

Whilst I need good depth of field it’s the foreground elements that need to be at their sharpest. I therefore tend to use an aperture range of f/4.0 to f/5.6. I feel this allows the lens to perform well whilst giving me good depth of field.

Selecting the right point of focus is important to me as this helps with the depth of field but also ensures the key foreground elements are sharp.

Keeping all this in mind, I have included the full sized image for you to examine. This was from a capture made in RAW format which was then converted to TIFF in Lightroom. A small amount of capture sharpening was applied and a little processing was done in Viveza. The image was then saved as a JPEG. Enjoy.

 

 

Canon G16 First Thoughts

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G16 Test Shot on Helm Crag, f/4.0, 1/500"
G16 Test Shot on Helm Crag, f/4.0, 1/500″

In Friday’s blog post I mentioned that I was heading up to the Lake District for some photography. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly hopeful as the plan was to climb some of the hills there and see what took our fancy. The weather forecast in the area was for snow/rain showers at sea level so I expected snow showers on the hills – I wasn’t disappointed.

In the end the weather forecast was pretty much spot on although the snow shower on the decent felt as though it has set in for the day and was quite heavy. Despite this we managed some reasonable photography and I managed to get a feel for the new Canon G16 compact camera that I had in my pocket.

My first thoughts on the G16 are as follows:

  • Image quality is really quite good. Noise is well controlled even when shooting at ISO800. It appears on the face of it to be better than the LX7 in this respect.
  • Image sharpness is good although it tends to go a little soft in the corners and is not as sharp as the LX7. I suspect the image circle of the G16 is smaller than the LX7 which means the lens corners are softer. They are though perfectly acceptable and the centre of the image is very good.
  • I found the 28mm end of the lens frustrating and really wanted to go to 24mm. At the other end of the zoom range the extra reach in comparison to the LX7 was most welcome and I found myself using it quite a lot to isolate areas of the distant hills. I can’t say that Preferred one over the other but would like someone to make a 24-140mm lens (my RX10 is perfect but large).
  • The filter adapter that fits around the lens takes the same approach as the LX5 (a lens tube surrounding the lens) where the LX7 attaches to the front of the lens. This makes the G16 quite bulky when the adapter is attached but it is quick and easy to remove using a bayonet style attachment rather than a regular screw thread. All things considered I prefer the LX7 method for the reason in the next bullet.
  • I had been looking forward to using the optical viewfinder on the G16 rather than an EVF but in the field I found 2 big drawbacks. First the viewfinder is quite small which made it difficult to use. Secondly, the lens adapter tube got in the way because the viewfinder was centred over the lens. In fact the adapter tube made the optical viewfinder almost completely useless because you can’t see the image. When will manufacturers learn to field test equipment with real photographers?
  • The colours rendered by the G16 are very nice but they are also a little on the warm side.
  • I found the button combinations on the G16 a little tricky, less intuitive and more frustrating than the LX7. This could in part be my lack of familiarity with the G16 although I wasn’t making mistakes, just having to go through menus and multiple button presses to get it to do what I wanted. I may be able to fix this when I read the manual on how to programme the buttons.
  • It may sound daft but I found that I liked working with the Canon RAW files in post production. Some RAW files just feel more flexible and forgiving than others.
  • When I was out in the field I found there was very little latitude to expose to the right. In fact I struggled to avoid the flashing highlights in almost all my shots. Blown highlights were everywhere despite using a 2 stop ND grad. In the end I just gave up trying to control this and turned it off. Back on the computer when I have loaded in the RAW file it looks like there is plenty of headroom in the highlights which is a little frustrating.

Overall the G16 is a nice camera to use and will produce good results, but I can’t see it replacing my LX7. Will I keep both? Yes for the time being. I want to use the G16 in an urban environment as it seems to be more suited to this than Landscapes.

The other thing I am going to do is make more use of my GM1. I bought this as a high quality compact camera and whilst the image quality is superb (on a par with the EM5) the 24-64mm equivalent lens is a little restrictive. I therefore intend to buy the 70mm-200mm (small GM ultra compact) lens. I can easily carry the camera in one pocket and the lens in the other. This strangely may make a better option for a carry anywhere camera.

Resolution Broken

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Loughrigg Tarn captured on a Panasonic LX7, ISO80, F/5.0, 1/8" handheld
Loughrigg Tarn captured on a Panasonic LX7, ISO80, F/5.0, 1/8″ handheld

I’m currently preparing a presentation on Lightweight Photography for Chorley Photographic Society where I have spoken in the past. As part of this I decided to take a few shots with my Panasonic LX7 when I was out in the Lake District on my last trip. Above you can see one of the images which I have also printed at A3 to take along on the day. The print looks quite nice with lots of detail. With the addition of a little grain I would say that it doesn’t look very “digital” at all.

This exercise got me thinking that I haven’t been using my compact camera very much over the last year. This time last year I was missing the LX5 which I had replaced with a Sony RX100. I then found I didn’t enjoy using the Sony as much so sold it for the LX7. Don’t ask me why but I never seem to be carrying the LX7 and this defeats the objective of owning a compact camera.

Anyway, I found that I really enjoyed shooting with the LX7 in preparation for the presentation and before I knew it I had ordered a Canon G16. What a bargain; £290 new from Amazon and then £40 cash back from Canon. This is where breaking the resolution comes in as I said I wouldn’t buy any more equipment this year.

I can’t yet report on the Canon as although I took it on a walk with me over the weekend the terrible weather meant that I didn’t shoot anything that’s worth showing. What I did notice is that the image stabilisation doesn’t seem to be as good as the LX7 but the noise handling appears better. Time will tell but I did find I enjoyed using the G16.

An Important Decision

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Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England
Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England

It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.

Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.

So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.

Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.

OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.

All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.

Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.

The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.

I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.

Something to Say Again

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North Wales would you believe!
North Wales would you believe!

I had a bit of a scare over the holidays that made me realise how sloppy I have become with my backup process. At one time I was pretty rigorous in processing and backing up my images. Everything went into a holding area on my hard drive which was duplicated to a second hard drive. Once the images had been processed and had keywords applied I would then move them to a processed folder set, again duplicated and then also burned to CD.

Over time the image size has increased and so have my storage needs. At some point I seem to have relaxed control and stopped using my complicated, multi copy process. In short, I have become sloppy. I did recognise this a few years ago and took out a little insurance, investing in a Drobo with 4 drive bays. That way if one of my drives dies I still have the data across the others.

Great idea; I love the Drobo and all has been well for the past 4 years.

The only problem I have with this set up is that it’s not very easy to have a backup of 8Tb’s of storage. Sure if one or even two of the disks die I can recover with minimal data loss. But what happens if the whole unit dies. The first thing a Drobo unit does when you insert a new drive is format it.

Gulp!

I had this thought about a week ago and then the unthinkable actually happened. My Drobo wouldn’t boot. Even when I managed to get it started the PC wouldn’t recognise it and the unit would go back to sleep.

I have managed to get the unit started now. I have no idea what caused the problem but it’s made me invest in a second Drobo and hard disks. I am going to spend a lot more time in the coming year developing a sensible archiving policy for all my images. I’m now adding images to the collection far too quickly. I can’t risk losing everything.

Storage may be cheap but the time taken to manage data and image archives isn’t. I think this coming year will be a year of tidying everything up and becoming as streamlined as possible.

Improving the D800

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14-12-01 RWhalley_D800_2014_11__RNW0431

As regular readers of this blog will know I purchased a Nikon D800 a few months back in order to do a real hand on comparison with the Olympus EM5. The first few months of usage have been somewhat mixed and I have found myself reaching for the EM5 on more than one occasion, not least recently when I have suffered a very painful prolapsed disk in my neck.

Anyway, I digress from the point that I wanted to make in this blog and that is one of the most irritating things I have found in using the D800 is the image quality. When I look at a RAW file from the EM5 its crisp and has a lovely level of contrast, especially in the mid tones. The D800 is not as good in this respect and lacks the bite that I see in the EM5 files. I have thought that it might be the lenses but then when I have tried out some pro lenses, I still have the same disappointed feeling. I can see the image is sharp but it just doesn’t seem to reveal the level of detail I had hoped for.

Then recently someone shared the details of a software program that I hadn’t come across that is designed to correct optical limitations in lenses. It’s called Piccure+ and you can get a free trial download from their website. Here is a comparison of a section of the foreground from the D800 image above, shown at 100% magnification (click the images to see the full enlargement). The image below is prior to processing Piccure+. It has been converted from RAW in Lightroom with full adjustment including sharpening.

Before Processing
Before Processing

The next image is following processing in Piccure+. This now feels much more like the quality of image I achieve in the EM5. This is a clear improvement.

After Piccure+
After Piccure+

Now to confuse matters I thought I would also run the image through Topaz Detail which I used to use a lot. Not sure why I stopped using it but I think it’s about the time I switched to Micro 43.

After Topaz Detail
After Topaz Detail

So, what I can deduce from this is that the detail is there in the image but it needs some good processing to bring out the best. Piccure does a great and very natual job. Topaz Detail seems to bring out more detail but it also lightens the shadows a little too much. Personally I prefer the Piccure+ restul better but then I have more control with Topaz (I just need to take more care).

If you haven’t tried either of these products before they are well worth it. You might just find that lens you were struggling with isn’t as poor as you think.

You Lucky People!

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Wales - see Friday Image 41. Nikon D800.
Wales – see Friday Image 41. Nikon D800.

Yesterday I loaded a number of Lightroom Presets I had been building, to the Lenscraft website. I then sent out an email broadcast to the membership list saying the presets were now available and free to download.

From the stats, I can see a lot of people have been able to access the site and download the presets. A few people however have complained about the site being slow and some are having problems signing in; the site is reporting they need to have cookies enabled when in fact they have.

Part of the problem is that Lenscraft is becoming a victim of its own success and the traffic volumes are increasing quite rapidly. To give you some idea, in November there has been 10,000 visitors and the site server up some 70,000 pages. This is around 20% up on the previous month which is about 20% up on the month before.

I realise this is not a lot in comparison to some of the commercial sites, but I run Lenscraft as a free resource for Photographers and need to keep costs down. Now the cracks in the hosting are starting to appear. I have therefore decided to invest in a major hosting upgrade (my wallet is still hurting) and we are now running on something that has about 5 times the processing capacity of the previous host. Checking a short time ago I can see a substantial improvement in the sites performance and I hope you will also.

If following this anyone has any problems with cookies do let me know as I may need to recreate your account.

As for the image today, this was taken at the same time as the image in the previous post. It was captured using a Nikon D800, tripod mounted, 18-35mm Nikkor lens, 0.9 ND grad filter. Shutter speed 1.3″ at f/14.0. It took an age to get the camera into a workable position.

D800 Live View Pain

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Nikon D800, ISO100, f/14.0 for 1.6". 0.5ND graduated filter

As I mentioned on the blog last week I have been over the Wales at the weekend doing some photography in the Landscape. Whilst the weather was quite mixed it was a great opportunity to work with the D800 again and try to compare it to my Olympus EM5.

To best appreciate my position on this post you need to understand that I like to pick my point of focus when taking pictures. In fact I place great store by this capability and see it as essential to being able to achieve the best mix of depth of field and image sharpness. With the EM5 I have a grid of focus points that very nearly covers the entire frame and which I can easily select.

The D800 also has a lot of focus points but the coverage is nowhere near as good as the EM5 and I am often left in a position where I can’t select the point of focus I want using autofocus. I used to have a similar problem with the Canon 5D MKII and on that camera I resorted to using Live View. This was an easy and effective way of working. I would mount the camera on a tripod, operate live view, select my point of focus, zoom in to 100% magnification, focus manually then take the shot.

This resulted in some great shots with excellent focus and sharpness. I decided therefore that I would do the same with the D800. All worked well until the light levels started to drop, at which point the live view started to become noisy. This happened quite quickly and it wasn’t long before the noise prevented me from being able to focus. When I tried to do some long exposure work with a 6 stop filter, live view would just black; I couldn’t see anything.

Lets contrast the above experience with the Canon 5D that I previously used. I was able to place a 10 stop filter over the lens and still see sufficient to compose the image (although focussing was a struggle). Using the Olympus EM5 with a 6 stop filter is no problem and I can compose and focus through this quite easily.

Overall you might think I am being picky but this experience only serves to make the camera difficult to work with. Whilst I did persevere, I found the D800 difficult to work with and it was nice when I switched back to the EM5. Given the D800 is such a recent flagship camera for Nikon, I can’t believe they couldn’t have done more with the Live View. How you are able to work with a camera is more important that features. When you are able to work easily with the camera your results improve. Unfortunately my hit rate dropped off significantly.

Comparing the Nikon D800

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Nikon D800, Nikkor 18-35 lens at f/14 for 15 seconds. Lee 10 stop ND filter.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 18-35 lens at f/14 for 15 seconds. Lee 10 stop ND filter.

I would like to start this blog post with an apology. It’s taken me far too long to publish my first thoughts about the D800 and how it compares to the Olympus EM5. But there is a reason for this in that I have wanted to get used to the D800 given that it’s a new camera. It usually takes me a number of outings to begin to understand a camera and then quite a few more to start producing work that I am pleased with.

I have now had exactly three outings with the D800 and I feel that I am starting to understand it and get “the feel of the camera”. Despite this I c

an’t keep you all waiting any longer so I will start to discuss my findings. First though I should outline the equipment that I have been using and the technique I have adopted when using the D800.

As you may be aware I purchased the D800 used as it was an absolute bargain. I also purchased two lenses to use with the camera:

  • Nikkor 24-85 f/2.8-4D IF
  • Nikkor 18-35 f3.5-4.5G ED

Neither of these lenses are the top rated in their category but they are more reasonably priced than the pro lenses. Price wise they compare with the lenses I use on my Olympus EM5 for similar focal lengths although the 12-40mm Olympus is a little more costly than the Nikkor 24-85. Of the two Nikkor lenses the 18-35 is sharper and produces better results although you do need to be peeping at those pixels in 100% magnification to notice.

In terms of using the D800, I have been shooting almost entirely with the camera mounted on a heavy Manfrotto 055CL which is one hell of a sturdy and robust tripod. I have also been using a cable release to minimise vibration. When shooting landscapes I have been using 100mm Lee ND Grad filters.

My mode of operation with the D800 on the tripod is to shoot in Live View and with the lens set to manual focus. Using this I will select the point of focus, zoom in to 100% magnification then focus the lens manually. I have found this will provide a better and more reliable result than relying on the camera’s auto focus system. A couple of observations I would make here are:

  • You need to use Live View in order to gain the flexibility of the focus point positioning. Only in live view can you position this anywhere in the frame. If you are using the optical viewfinder you will be limited by the cameras autofocus points. This is rather annoying as these points don’t extend sufficiently into the frame to obtain the best focussing.
  • When shooting in this way you need to remember to close the rear curtain on the viewfinder or you will get exposure problems as you can see from the image here. The light leak look is quite appealing but I don’t want it on every frame.
Nikon D800 showing light leak caused by not closing the rear curtain on the viewfinder
Nikon D800 showing light leak caused by not closing the rear curtain on the viewfinder

So now you know a little about how I am working with the D800, my next post on the subject will start to compare some of the factors such as image quality. I would also like to make this quite interactive so if anyone reading this has a comparison characteristic they would like to know about, just ask.

As a parting comment, I would like to point out that the EM5 is far more forgiving as a camera than the D800. I can use it hand held at ridiculously slow shutter speeds and still achieve a very sharp image. I can also work with it in very flexible and creative ways where with the D800 I am fighting with the tripod for most of the time. This has cut my shooting rate to about 1/10 of the EM5.