Equipment

A Little Crazy

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Wells Cathedral, XPan with 45mm lens and Kodak TMAX400
Wells Cathedral, XPan with 45mm lens and Kodak TMAX400

I have done something a little crazy. Since talking to my friend about scanning and having done a few scans myself recently, I have had the bug to shoot some film again. In particular I want to shoot Infrared but I might even start shooting some slide film again. Whilst I have around 50 rolls of Fuji Velvia in the Freezer and a similar amount of B&W negative film, I only had 3 rolls of Infrared.

You probably won’t have noticed but Infrared film is in fairly short supply these days. I did finally find and purchase 12 rolls but in doing so I also spotted a 30mm XPan lens for sale second hand. This is a lens that I have longed for ever since I bought my XPan and it has reached almost mythical levels amongst XPan users. I don’t know what came over me but I bought it.

So that’s the proceeds of the D800 sale spent.

Could my RX10 be “Wired Wrong”

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Sony RX10, f5.0, 8 seconds exposure. Lee 6 stop ND filter.
Sony RX10, f5.0, 8 seconds exposure. Lee 6 stop ND filter.

I know that it seems far fetched but this is the question I find myself asking given some of my recent experiences. It started with the image you see above. This was a long exposure shot on a tripod using a Lee 6 Stop ND filter.

To arrive at this image I had to make a few exposures. The first few were all soft or exhibited camera shake. I reasoned that the wind at the time was part of the problem and so I shielded the camera and pushed down on the tripod. The results improved but there was still a softness to the shot that shouldn’t have been present. My next step to improve the image quality was to switch off the Image Stabilization. When I did this the images suddenly became that much sharper and seemed to snap into focus.

Some of you might now be saying well that’s obvious but it isn’t. You see the RX10 firmware is supposed to detect that it’s mounted on a tripod and not try to stabilize the camera. More importantly though is that I left the stabilization turned off. As the day progressed I found that most of my images were sharp and crisp, even at slower shutter speeds and longer focal lengths.

This weekend I repeated the exercise and made some hand held exposures with the stabilization on and off. When it was turned off I found I could shoot at quite slow speeds to produce crisp images (speeds I could never achieve with the RX10 previously). When the stabilization was turned on I found a lot of my slower shutter speed images became soft and even blurred.

Interesting stuff but at least I am gaining a lot more faith in the capabilities of the RX10.

Well Done Lee Filters

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Sony RX10 image with 0.3 Lee ND Grad filter on the sky
Sony RX10 image with 0.3 Lee ND Grad filter on the sky

A couple of weeks back I was in the Lake District enjoying some walking and photography. It was during this time that I came across a rather high contrast scene so reached for my filter kit. Regular readers may know that I am a huge fan of the Lee Seven 5 series of filters which are ideal for Micro 43 cameras. The filters may be expensive but the kit is very well engineered with high quality materials.

Anyway, I pulled out my filter holder and tried to slot in one of the ND grads. At first it seemed to fit but then I noticed it was lose. On closer inspection I found out that one of the screws which secures the blades into which the filters slow was missing. Now the blades were lose and so was the filter.

Back home I decided to email Lee Filters to see where I could find a replacement screw as I have never seen these being sold. Result! There was a very fast response from the Lee Customer Service team asking for my address so they could post me a replacement screw.

What I didn’t mention in all this is that I left it quite late to contact Lee Filters and was now facing my next trip without a usable filter holder. Fortunately Lee acted on the email very quickly and the day after my sending my postal address an envelope arrived containing not 1 but 4 of the screws together with the 4 plastic spacers which are also used in the filter holder. What great customer service.

A big thank you to the team at Lee for acting so quickly. You saved my trip.

And in case your wondering, here is the B&W conversion.
And in case your wondering, here is the B&W conversion.

Would You Buy the Olympus EM5 MK II

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Olympus EM5 MK I. How long would a long exposure such as this (6 seconds) take on the new MK II? I estimate around 100" in the 40MP mode.
Olympus EM5 MK I. How long would a long exposure such as this (6 seconds) take on the new MK II? I estimate around 100″ in the 40MP mode.

Since Olympus announced the EM5 MK II I seem to have been asked repeatedly will I be buying the new camera. My answer is “not yet” and “probably not” (although I reserve the right to change my mind).

The spec for the EM5 MK II is very enticing. There is the 40MP RAW image size which looks ideal for Landscapes and indeed this is why a lot of people think I might buy one. My response to this is quite easy as the recent experience with the Nikon D800 reminded me that the additional pixels don’t matter all that much unless you are making a huge print (something I don’t do very often).

The  thing that I don’t really like about the 40MP image size is that it requires the sensor to move around very quickly. Apparently this can take a couple of seconds to take the required number of images to stitch into the finished RAW file. If there is movement in the scene it can lead to image quality issues. I would like to see this in operation before I embrace it. It also worries me that the sensor moving around could be prone to mechanical failure and even possible vibration which could also impact image quality. In any case, if I want to create a large print I can always use enlargement software (more on this in a later blog post)

The other improvements to the camera aren’t really that attention grabbing. Sure there is the improved sensor and image processing that might clean up the camera noise by a stop or two, but the EM5 was always great on image noise anyway. In fact the only thing that I think is a huge advance is the articulated rear screen which will move in any direction. That is the only feature that genuinely tempts me to move to the EM5 MK II but that doesn’t really justify the expenditure.

Now if anyone out there who reads this has the new MK II and previously owned an EM5, I would be very interested to learn if you think the new camera is a big step up and why.

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.