The Friday Image 003

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First Images from the Sony RX10
First Images from the Sony RX10

The past couple of weeks I have failed miserably to publish a Friday image. My best intentions went out of the window due to being away both weekends so I am trying to make up for it with this image.

On the surface there is nothing particularly excellent or stunning about it. It is however one of the first images captured on my new RX10. Quality wise it’s not great but I am putting that down to the Sony RAW converter – sorry Sony but you do need to improve this software.

The thing that has me interested about this image is that it was shot without a filter. An image such as this would normally need an ND grad over the sky to balance the exposure with the ground. In this instance I didn’t have one on the camera and the sky which was quite bright was showing that it had blown out. Equally the land was quite dark and underexposed.

The resulting image you see here was processed from RAW and then converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Notice that I have been able to reveal detail in the shadows and maintain the sky without areas being blown out. Overall, I am quite impressed by the RAW file produced from this sensor. I now need to check the image quality by processing the RAW file in either Photoshop or Lightroom once these support the RX10.

In fact, as I write, Lightroom 5.3 has become available and it looks like it supports the RX10. I will report more about the image quality next week.

Have a great weekend everyone.

When is an A Series Filter not an A Series Filter

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Sunset on the mud flats. ND Graduated filters are a must for shots such as this.
Sunset on the mud flats. ND Graduated filters are a must for shots such as this.

I want to share with you a valuable lesson about filters. Those of you reading this blog regularly will no doubt be aware of the importance I place on the use of filters, particularly ND Graduated filters, for Landscape Photography.

For some time I have wanted to try out the reverse ND graduated filters that have started to become so popular recently. These are just like the normal ND graduates except that they are slightly lighter at the top part of the filter. This means there is a darker band running across the centre of the filter. The idea is that you place the darker band on the horizon where it is typically lighter at sunrise and sunset. This helps prevent the rest of the sky becoming unnaturally dark.

The problem with these filters is that they are unusually expensive. To buy a set of 100mm filters you need to take out a second mortgage and I can’t help but feel that I’m being ripped off. The P series are a little better but still cost upwards of £60 each.

My solution has been to switch to using A Series filters. I can do this as I use micro 43 and compact cameras (forget the recently acquired RX10 for the moment). To give you the complete story a friend had been thinking about the same thing and made the purchase first. I tested the filters on my lenses and all worked perfectly with no vignette so I was happy to make a purchase.

The filters I bought were the HiTech 67mm which are the same size as the Cokin A Series and are the same as my friends. He was using his with the Cokin A series filter rings and holder but I thought that I would buy the HiTech versions. This was more costly but I liked the modular holder and it would allow me to attach a 77mm polarising filter with a separate adapter.

All is fine with the filters and the holder is great.

It was at this point that I decided to purchase a cheap Cokin holder as a spare. Well, the damn thing won’t fit on the HiTech filter rings. They are too thick and slightly too wide a diameter. I checked this again by trying to use a Cokin A Series filter ring with the HiTech holder. That doesn’t work either as the Cokin ring is too small.

So, this lesson didn’t cost me very much (about £10) but I thought it would be worth sharing.

The A Series filters from HiTech are much more affordable as well so my loss is more than compensated.

When more is less

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GX1 V's EM5 V's RX10
GX1 V’s EM5 V’s RX10

So, I have done it. I returned the 14-140 lens for a refund and the money has gone against a Sony RX10. My first impressions are that this is quite a large camera. Actually, it’s not a camera at all but a huge lens with a sensor stuck on the back.

You might feel that I am being unkind but this is exactly what I expected and even wanted. It reminds me so much of the beloved R1 that I sold a few years back. This camera oozes quality and the dials and buttons are a joy to use.

In terms of size, it’s larger that my GX1 (which is now Infrared only) and it’s even slightly larger than the EM5 (which I absolutely love). It’s not however as large as either of these cameras plus the three lenses I would need to cover the same focal length as the 24-200mm lens. The lens also seems to produce great image quality across the entire focal and aperture range. It’s early days yet though.

Annoying limitations at the moment are that I don’t yet have a 62mm filter ring so I can’t really shoot good landscapes. Lightroom also doesn’t support the RAW files so I am having to use the dreadful Sony RAW converter (at least until Adobe release an update). I hated this software when I had an NEX5 and I still hate it now.

I’m looking forward to really getting out with the camera. It’s nice that it’s a sealed unit so less chance of dust getting in there. I also don’t need to stop to change lens so I am thinking this is a great hiking camera for the hill and it should make for a great travel outfit also.

I will report back on the image quality when I have been able to put it through its paces properly.

Never Give Up

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View descending Lingmoor Fell, The Lake District
View of Langdale Pike whilst descending from Lingmoor Fell, The Lake District

I was in the Lake District at the weekend for a couple of days walking in the hills and as you would expect I took my camera along (the Olympus EM5). Looking through the images last night, this particular one stood out for me.

This was the last picture I shot at the weekend. It was taken after sunset (although there wasn’t one to speak of) when the light was fading fast . There must have been sufficient light around though as it was captured handheld at 1/20″ using ISO400 with my 14-45 lens set to f/5.6. The great thing about Micro 43 lenses is that they tend to be sharp even when the aperture is quite wide.

When I took the picture I liked the scene but I didn’t hold out much hope for the image. I thought it would be quite coarse and grainy, filled with noise and lack detail. In fact, I almost didn’t take the shot because I had conditioned myself to give up under such circumstances.

I’m pleased that I did though as this reminds me never to give up whilst there is still light.

The Lens Goes Back

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View whilst ascending Bowfell, The Lake District.
View whilst ascending Bowfell, The Lake District.

I recently blogged about my new lens, the new Panasonic 14-140. I wanted the lens so that I didn’t have to keep changing lenses (between my 14-45 and 45-200) when out walking in the hills. The only problem I have found is that I don’t trust the 14-140 given the results I have had.

In my previous post I mentioned that it seemed OK in the 14-45mm range but less sharp than my 14-45 lens. Beyond this I thought the poor results were from my sloppy technique – NOT SO. Having had the lens on a tripod it’s still very soft, has poor contrast and even makes the images look grainy.

I ran through a batch of images that I had shot with the lens and nothing over 80mm was sharp – not one. Between 45 and 80mm the image quality was generally poor. Between 14-45 the quality was acceptable but not good. This is not a travel lens or a replacement for the other two when weight is an issue.

I suspect there may be some of you reading this who are screaming out that this is an excellent lens but I have talked to a few people now who have this new Panasonic lens and all have thought it quite soft. It might be that I had a bad sample but I don’t want to risk it so I have asked for a refund. As I left it a few weeks before trying out the lens and reporting it I am out of the refund period so the retailer will only issue a credit note.

This isn’t a problem though as I have my eye on a Sony RX10.

I have to own up and say that this for me is exercising the ghost of a perfect camera, the Sony R1. I had one of these a few years back that I had purchased second hand. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the R1, it was a bridge camera with a fixed lens. It weighed slightly less than an SLR and was only slightly smaller. It had a 10Mpixel CMOS sensor but coupled with an astonishingly good Zeiss lens. The lens was the equivalent of a 24mm – 120mm and was amazingly sharp and distortion free throughout the zoom range. The results from this camera were amazing.

When I look at the RX10, it looks very similar to the R1. It has the same huge Zeiss lens but this time goes from 24-200mm and is f/2.8 across the entire range. This is enough to convince me that I have to have one. No doubt I will dissatisfied in some way but at least I will have it out of my system.

Further Variations

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My last post has drawn some interesting feedback on which image people like best and why. The thing I find fascinating about this exercise is not only do we tend to favour one image over the other (most of the time), but we tend to do this for different reasons. I have just read a great comment from Paul making the point that the different tones in the surrounding grass, some dead and some alive is distracting as well as the direction of the grass. Whilst I also see this (more now Paul points it out), it doesn’t cause me any issues with the colour image. In fact it makes it feel more natural to me.

Another comment from David talks about liking the subtle graduations in tone from the colour image. This is also my perspective and what I find so attractive about the colour image. I do however also like the sharpness and clarity of the black and white image BUT wouldn’t want to see that reproduced in the colour image. I feel it would lose it’s subtly if that happened.

This suggests to me (perhaps this is obvious to others) that when we assess an image we each favour different qualities over others. Some of us look for strong shape and form in an image and judge this to be the priority. Others look for subtle graduations in colour and tone ahead of other factors. Maybe other favour texture over everything. Perhaps if we develop an awareness of how others see photography we might develop a more rounded view ourselves, which could lead to our performance as photographers improving.

So enough of the psycho analysis. I wanted to share a few more versions of yesterdays image, adopting some (not all) of the suggestions made.

Any favourites?

Variation 1
Variation 1. Click to enlarge.
Variation 2. Click to enlarge
Variation 2. Click to enlarge.
Variation 3. Click to enlarge.
Variation 3. Click to enlarge.
Variation 4. Click to enlarge.
Variation 4. Click to enlarge.

The last two images are my preference, but the colour one sneaks it, for me at least.

Which do you like best

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Frosty leaf. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
Frosty leaf. Converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Click the image to view larger.

I captured this image of a frosty yesterday morning on the edge of a car park. It did raise a few eyebrows from passersby. My initial intension was to convert it to a black and white image using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I made a few variations of the image using different conversions, some high key some low key and some high contrast but none ticked the box for me.

Then I remembered a new Nik programme that I had downloaded whilst trying to fix a problem with Lightroom 5.2 (still not fixed) and thought I would give it a go. The filter is called Analogue Efex and allows you to simulate all sorts of camera and film effects. Usually I am not impressed by such applications and to be honest, looking through the presets I wasn’t hopeful. I then found the custom sections where you can create your own effects and the image below was the result. I produced both the colour version and then converted this to the black and white version above with Silver Efex Pro.

Frosty leaf version 2. Click the image to view a large version.
Frosty leaf version 2. Click the image to view a large version.

I have made prints from both and the prints are excellent quality but I don’t know which I prefer. I think I am edging towards the colour version but then I switch to black and white. I was wondering what others thought – my wife dismisses anything black and white immediately so if you have similar tendencies your immediately banned from commenting.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

I almost forgot, there also seems to have been other updates installing themselves in the background. This includes a few presets for different applications but I also noticed the grain simulation is now superb. It looks completely natural and is so much better than before. I actually find myself wanting to add grain.