Equipment

Sony RX10 Exposure Tips

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Sony RX10, f/5.6, ISO80, 1/250", 2 stop ND Grad
Sony RX10, f/5.6, ISO80, 1/250″, 2 stop ND Grad

I mentioned in my last blog that I had been using the Sony RX10 exclusively over the last week and in doing so I noticed a few things about how to get a good exposure. Here is what I learned:

When the highlights clip they literally fall of a cliff. This can make the areas around the blown highlights appear very ugly. The Olympus EM5 highlights by contrast seem to behave much more like film, which seem to be more gradual.

One of the features of the RX10 is that you can display “zebras” in the live view. These “zebras” show you where the scene is exceeding the dynamic range of the sensor and the highlights are blown. You can also set the level of this so that you see a warning before the damage is done. For my camera I have this set at 100%+ so that if I see zebras I know there is clipping which as mentioned above can look quite ugly. I do this because I shoot RAW and can usually recover some of the damage.

What I have found is that there just isn’t much headroom in the RAW files beyond the zebras so you need to take care. With most cameras I have found I can expose to the right (deliberately overexpose the image) and then correct this by careful processing of the RAW file. This typically results in a higher quality image with less shadow noise and more detail. With the Sony RX10 this doesn’t seem to be the case and leaving the camera to calculate the exposure without any compensation seems to render very good images.

So how much can I over expose the image by? Well it seems to be only 2/3 of a stop. BUT a nice feature I have noticed is that the histogram that you can display whilst taking the image seems to reflect what is being captured in the RAW file whilst the zebras seem to indicate where the JPEG file will blow the highlights. I have noticed that I can be showing the warning zebras (set at 100%) but the histogram shows no clipping. The JPEG will show clipping but when I get the RAW file into Lightroom I can fully recover the problem areas.

Hope this helps other Sony RX10 owners out there.

Sony RX10 Surprise

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Sony RX10 in the Lake District. F5.6, ISO80, 1/200". Monochrome conversion in Nik Silver Efex
Sony RX10 in the Lake District. F5.6, ISO80, 1/200″. Monochrome conversion in Nik Silver Efex
ANd I thought I would also share the colour version as the RX10 colours are superb.
And I thought I would also share the colour version as the RX10 colours are superb.

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted anything over this past week. That’s because I have been taking a break in the Lake District enjoying some walking and a little photography. I had with me a range of cameras (you never quite know what you will need):

  • Sony RX10
  • Olympus EM5
  • Panasonic GM1 (including a new 35-100 lens I have just purchased)
  • Canon G16

I started the week using the RX10 as the weather was looking quite changeable and it’s easy to push the camera under a coat. I also didn’t want to be bothered keep changing lenses which is quite a pain when out on the hills. As a backup I had the GM1 in my backpack.

By the end of the week, interestingly, I had only used the RX10. I must admit that some of the images were a little blurred due to camera shake but I just shot a few of each composition to ensure I had at least one good image.

If you had asked me at the start of the week I would never have predicted that I would use the RX10 exclusively. I must admit that I loved it and best of all I learned a few new points about how the camera seems to work out exposures. I will share these with you in my next post.

The RX10 is winning me over by osmosis

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Sony RX10 in the Peak District, 62mm, ISO80, 1/50", f/5.6
Sony RX10 in the Peak District, 62mm, ISO80, 1/50″, f/5.6

I’ve had the RX10 for around 14 months now so I should be in a position to say if it’s a good camera or not. Had you asked me this question 12 months ago I would probably have said (if I was being totally truthful) that it was a bit of a letdown.

You see my expectations were way too high having previously owned a Sony R1. The reason I expected so much was that the R1 had an amazing lens and the RX10 looked pretty much identical. It’s a huge Zeiss lens with a tiny sensor bolted to the back and a bit of a grip to hold on to. It won’t win any awards for being beautiful but it certainly feels good in the hands.

Part of the reason I felt let down also was that the EM5 produces such sharp, crisp, detailed images. I had dearly wanted the RX10 to produce the same “quality” but it doesn’t. It also has corners that are a little distorted and soft in comparison. What I had failed to realise and what only dawned on me when I bought the Nikon D800 is that most cameras suffer from this. In fact the RX10 is a very good performer, it’s just different. In fact, I’m now really quite pleased with the image quality I am able to achieve. The images make lovely prints all the way up to A2 (I haven’t tried anything larger).

But it’s not the image quality that I like, it’s the handling. It’s very easy and intuitive to use. I like the aperture ring on the body of the lens (isn’t this something we had on all lenses at one time). I also like the huge zoom range from 24mm to 200mm and the fast f/2.8 constant maximum aperture. It even has a great battery life.

In all, this is a very impressive camera and great when you don’t want to carry around multiple lenses. I am starting to find myself reaching for this camera more and more, especially when I am out walking.

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.