What if you don’t shoot RAW

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Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don't take steps to address these.
Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don’t take steps to address these.

If you look back over my posts you will find quite a lot of comments about the need to shoot in RAW format and how I use RAW all the time. I have however been reminded by a couple of readers that not everyone does or even wants to shoot in RAW. So what should they do?

I have lots of concerns and reasons why I don’t shoot in JPG but one of the main reasons is the lack of post processing control. This is especially true of Noise Reduction and Sharpening which are applied to JPG’s in camera and which are key to determining the sharpness and detail in the finished image. If you are an LX5 and/or GX1 users I can tell you how to address this and my advice will probably apply to other cameras in the Panasonic Range as well as possibly other manufacturers.

There are two basic problems to my mind with the JPG’s from the LX5 and GX1 (and also the GF1 if I remember correctly). They have too much noise reduction and too little sharpening. If I had to shoot JPG I would be turning off noise reduction and sharpening in camera. I would then apply noise reduction as a separate step once I had the JPG on my computer before I did any image manipulation. I would then sharpen the final image to a level at which I am happy. Working in this way will help preserve your images and minimise loss of detail.

The way to switch off the noise and sharpening is through the Film Mode in the LX5. This is found in the Menu under the Record settings and is on the first page. Here you have the option to configure a new Custom film setting for which you can specify Contrast, Sharpening, Saturation and Noise Reduction. The GX1 is very similar to this.

If you want to shoot JPG but want to achieve sharp details, check your camera manual and give this approach a try.

My GX1 Lightweight Trip

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Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

I was going to use today’s post to tell you a little more about how I used the Topaz Detail 2 software to emphasise the detail in my LX5 images to produce enlargements. On Friday however I attended a Topaz webinar about Detail 3 which is due for release shortly. Detail 3 seems to be a big leap forward on Detail 2 (which is already very good) so I will wait until I have the new software to explain more. Instead I want to share some information about a trip out yesterday.

These days my opportunities to shoot tend to be when I am out in the landscape walking so my main camera for this is the GX1. Every month or two however I have the opportunity to get out with other photographers and spend a day or two just photographing. For these trips I tend to supplement my usual GX1 and LX5 cameras with a 5D MKII. I do like to use this camera and the results are superb. The downside is that it’s heavy and walking around with two full camera systems on your back for a long period of time is hard work.

For this weekend’s trip I decided I would only take the GX1 and LX5 with me together with some ND graduated filters (“P” sized HiTech) and a lightweight Velbon tripod (that I discussed a few posts back). The GX1 was a replacement for my 5D and the LX5 was a sort of point and shoot experimental camera with which to explore ideas.  The GX1 and 3 lenses weighs less than the 5D body but the big surprise was how much I used the LX5; I literally couldn’t put it down.

What a joy it was packing such a limited amount of equipment. There was far less than usual and everything I needed fitted in a small Low Pro slingshot bag. This allowed me to walk around all day on the beach, easily access my equipment and not need to put the bag down on the sand. In the past this has been a problem with the bag ending up with sand in it, not to mention the neck pain due to hanging a heavy camera round it.

In the end I enjoyed the photography much more than usual as I was free to more around with ease due to the small camera size. I felt very fresh through the day so was more prepared to put up with the very cold conditions. I was also able to shoot quite late into the day without the need for my tripod. I was even shooting handheld with the LX5 well after the sun had set (not that you could see the sun yesterday afternoon) but I will speak about that another day.

Lightweight only days are definitely going to be a feature of my future trips and I’m now wondering if it’s worth retiring the 5D.

Yet More Details

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Sand patterns on the beach at Formby. Another LX5 image.

In my previous blog I shared my process for making large prints with the LX5. I didn’t however explain about two of the other pieces of software that I also experimented with. The first of these that I want to tell you about is Photo Ninja which is a RAW converter. If the name reminds you of Noise Ninja, that’s because it’s by the same people.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to try out the converter is because many people are raving about the detail and quality of the images created. And to be honest, I have to agree. There was a huge amount of detail rendered and I didn’t have to work that hard to make the image sharp and of a high quality. Here you can see a small screen sample of an LX5 image shown at 100%.

Section of a file converted from RAW in Photo Ninja. This is a screen grab at 100% zoom. Click the image to view larger version.

No this hasn’t been sharpened other than a little RAW sharpening applied in the converter as I would in Lightroom.

I think the slider that really did the magic for me was something called “Detail”. When I used this the details just seemed to pop out but in a very natural way. It also did nothing to damage the colours which also rendered very well.

There were two interesting points to this experiment however:

  1. I didn’t have to spend much time learning in order to produce excellent images and with a little practice I expect I could do better.
  2. After I resized the image and did the same in Lightroom, I applied the Topaz Detail filter to both images. I expected the image from Noise Ninja to be better but it wasn’t. Both images were pretty much on a par. This suggests to me that Lightroom is also doing an excellent job of extracting details but you just don’t get to see it until you use an enhancement tool like Topaz Detail.

Will I switch to Noise Ninja? Probably not. I found the process of waiting for it to render images after each adjustment a little too time consuming. This is supposed to be lightweight image editing after all.

If you are interested in the link to Photo Ninja, here it is…

Making Large LX5 Prints Again

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This isn’t an image I have chosen to print large but it does help me appreciate how great the LX5 is. You should be able to make out a post on the horizon. If I zoom in to 200% on my monitor with the full resolution image I can make out a series of white depth marks on the post. The ability to resolve this much detail is simply amazing for such a small camera. By the way, the light rays are real.

It’s not often that I have free time these days but this weekend was different. My wife had gone to a knitting exhibition over in Harrogate with her sister and I found myself with a free afternoon. On the rare occasions when this happens and I don’t have any photography organised I like to experiment with photography software and image processing. This weekend was no exception and I decided I wanted to produce some large LX5 prints.

My target was to produce a 30” inch print which would stand close scrutiny.  Whilst a print of this size needs to have some distance between the image and the viewer to be appreciated, I also want to feel happy that if someone (probably me) sticks their nose up to the print, that it would still appear detailed and sharp. The image I went to work on was this picture of Brooklyn Bridge (shown below) that I shot last March on my LX5 whilst visiting New York.

LX5 image of the Brooklyn Bridge which I selected for printing at 30″ x 20″

When we prepare an image we usually think about our vision and how we can create this using either the camera or image manipulations such as dodging and burning. But if you are intending to print large you also need to evaluate the image to find and correct weaknesses that will become apparent in a larger print. The main areas of concern are noise, sharpness and detail.

The detail element of the image really needs to be addressed first during image capture. The best way to do this is to use good lenses, shoot in RAW and then expose to the right on the histogram (overexpose the image slightly). This moves a lot of areas out of the shadows and helps open them up to increase detail. Also the way image sensors work, a lot more information is captured in the darker areas with a lot less noise present. The result is a more detailed image which is sharper in the darker areas. The over exposure is then corrected when the RAW file is converted. As I always shoot in this way I had a good starting RAW file.

My next step was to assess the image for weaknesses. Here I could see some limited Luminance noise, especially in the clear blue sky. I decided that I needed to do a good job of selective noise reduction to focus on the shadows and on the sky. I did this using the Nik Define filter but I was careful to make my conversion from RAW with no sharpening and only colour noise reduction first. By not sharpening at all I ensured the noise was not emphasised before I applied the noise reduction. I also like to ensure the Nik Define filter is the first luminance noise reduction applied to the image as I have found this works best.

The steps above gave me a nice clean starting position to make my adjustments and convert to Black and White. After the Black and White conversion I used a programme called Topaz Detail which is very good at revealing details hidden in the image. Only once I was happy with this did I resize my image and then apply selective sharpening to the finished image. This gave me a nicely detailed and sharp image that was also very clean in terms of noise. Whilst I don’t yet have the print I can judge how it will look by viewing my image at 50% magnification.I have taken a screen grab of part of the 30inch x 20 inch image zoomed to 50% so you can judge this for yourself.

Captured on an LX5 and enlarged to 30″ x 20″. This section of the enlarged image is shown at 50% magnification to give an approximation of the detail in the final print.

I also produced a second resized image at 18” on the longest side in order to print on A3+ paper. The resulting print is very detailed, with nice tones and is exceedingly sharp.

I hope information helps you if you are seeking to make larger prints from an LX5 or similar quality compact.

Viveza Book Launched

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I started using Viveza out of curiosity and it’s become an essential part of my colour workflow. I can achieve complex edits in minutes that would have taken me hours in Photoshop previously. It’s also allowing me to work almost exclusively in Lightroom.

This is just a short post to share that my Viveza book (covering Viveza 2) is now live in the Kindle store on Amazon. It’s priced at USD2.99 which comes out at about GBP1.94 depending on the exchange rate. The book covers all aspects of using the Viveza 2 software and is backed up by image files that can be downloaded from the members’ area of my Lenscraft website.

If you have never tried Viveza I can promise that it will speed up your image editing hugely and that it’s well worth trying the 15 day free trial from the Nik website. My book would of course help you get more out of the evaluation – but then I’m biased.

Here is the link to the book on Amazon.

After the very relevant question from Paul I thought it best to add this link to the Free Kindle Reader download on Amazon as it’s not easy to find.

More Lightweight Photographer posts next week.

 

Why I love the Panasonic Lumix LX5

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The very capable lens of the LX5 has captured a wonderfully sharp and detailed image. Printing at 254dpi I can create an excellent 30″ x 22.5″ print from this file.

I haven’t been posting too much over the past couple of weeks. To be totally honest my time has been going into the new Nik Viveza book I have been writing for the Kindle. I have however been asked a question and I feel compelled to answer even though time is short at the moment. The question is “what’s so special about the LX5, after all it’s only a compact camera”.

I thought I would respond by listing my key likes here (this is only a limited list):

  • The exceptionally sharp lens – the lens is fantastic and can resolve a great deal of detail in the images captured. If you are shooting in JPG, a lot of the detail can be lost as the noise reduction tends to be a little too aggressive and the sharpening not quite sufficient. Images captured in RAW format are however a completely different proposition and you can pull so much detail and sharpness from the files.
  • The fast aperture – this allows you to shoot in low light conditions that would make you pack up your DSLR. You can handhold indoors with acceptable shutter speeds even at relatively low ISO. The LX5 can’t compete with larger sensor cameras in terms of noise but the fast aperture means you can usually keep the ISO low. Even wide open at f/2.0 the lens produces excellent results.
  • RAW Capture – Capturing your images in RAW is essential if you want to create a high quality image. The LX5 only has a 10Mpixel count but when used correctly you can produce a superb A3+ print. By shooting in RAW you can apply the correct level of noise reduction, sharpening and enjoy a much higher dynamic range than with JPG files.
  • Great Depth of Field – whilst the small sensor in comparison with a DSLR (the sensor is actually larger than with many other compacts) and therefore has higher levels of noise, this also gives the camera a greater depth of field at wide apertures. You might be able to shoot at f/2.0 with your DSLR but can you get everything in sharp focus? With a correctly composed scene you may well be able to with the LX5.
  • Design – The design of this camera is to my mind perfect. It fits in my hand and my pocket. It’s easy to use and the menus are intuitive. Most of the features I need to access in a hurry are buttons on the camera.
  • Great Macro – I can switch the lens to Macro mode and get great close-ups. If I want to do that with an SLR I need additional equipment.

Whilst the LX5 might be a little long in the tooth now, its replacement the LX7 is very similar and has many of the same features. It does address some of the LX5’s weaknesses but it would take a considerable improvement for me to feel the need to make the switch. If you are considering getting a quality compact then I can recommend the LX5 whole heartedly and you can pick them up at bargain prices currently.

Fixing the Weakness of the GX1

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This is Stanley Force in the Lake District although it looks more like the jungle from the land time forgot. Captured on a GX1 with a 4 stop ND filter to lengthen the exposure.

If you have been following my Lightweight Photography blog you might remember a post I made discussing the Achilles Heal of the GX1. At the time I had been out with my 5D and GX1 shooting waterfalls. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to achieve a slow enough speed with the GX1 to create the images I wanted so I ended up shooting most of my work on the 5D that day.

Since this trip I have purchased a Neutral Density filter from Hoya. The filter is of the screw in type as this limits the chance of light leaking in around a filter holder. It’s also quite convenient as my 3 main lenses (9-18mm, 14-45 and 45-200) are all 52mm diameter so I can attach the filter to any of these.

If you look back to the original post you will see there were a few questions asking about the strength of the filter I am using. I thought therefore I would give some additional information in this post.

The first thing I would like to say is that the filter strength is not the important factor here but the shutter speed is. When I shoot waterfalls I usually like to see the blurring of water to emphasise the movement but I still like some detail in the water. Generally speaking I don’t want to turn the water into a mist so keep my shutter speeds in the region of 0.5 to 3 seconds (as a general rule of thumb). The exact speed is based on factors such as my distance from the falls and the volume of water flowing over the fall. Whilst I can often judge this from experience it’s often a good idea to take a few test shots and adjust the speed if necessary.

The strength of the filter I have chosen is 4 stop (16x). In shaded conditions such as where you tend to find waterfalls, this puts me in the right ball park when shooting at between f/7.1 and f/14. I usually shoot at f/5.6 to f/8 as this is where my lenses are at their best so perhaps I could have opted for a 5 stop filter. I can however attach a square filter holder to the end of my lens and insert one of my ND Graduated filters pulled down so that the dark area of the filter covers the entire image area. This can give me an additional 1, 2 or 3 stops of light reduction which is better than having too strong a filter to start with.

I hope this helps a few of you wanting to achieve longer shutter speeds.