digital photography

Friday image No.039

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Rock at Aberdaron, Wales

This week’s Friday image was shot on my trip to Wales last week. It was 10:00 in the morning on Saturday and the rain was coming down hard from the dark sky. My friend checked the weather forecast and announced the weather would clear at 11:00 and that we should leave now to be ready for the storm breaking. I didn’t believe the forecast but agreed.

At 11:00 there was a break in the clouds and within 30 minutes the sun was breaking through the storm as predicted (Ed, if your reading this well done. All that new computer kit at the Met Office is paying off). As usual when a rain front breaks you get dramatic lighting and this was no exception. We raced over to the small coastal town of Aberdaron where we thought the light on the beach would be interesting; we weren’t wrong.

At the time I had the camera set to shoot in black and white as there wasn’t much colour from the contrasty lighting. To make the image more interesting a 6 stop Lee ND filter was used which gave a shutter speed of around 1 second. The image above represents pretty much my vision for the finished image (which by the way hasn’t had a lot of processing). It wasn’t until I saw the colour version that I realised there was a better option. Printing the two images at A4 the black and white looks good until you compare it side by side with the colour version. At A3 and larger the colour image is particularly impressive.

Let me know if you agree the colour version is better and have a great weekend.

Rock at Aberdaron, Wales

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.

Friday image No.037

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Nikon D800, 18-35 Nikkor lens, f/16.0 for 0.625" at ISO100
Penmon Lighthouse. Nikon D800, 18-35 Nikkor lens, f/16.0 for 0.625″ at ISO100

Here’s a recent one from the Nikon D800. After a few trips I finally seem to be working better with the D800 and more of my images are in focus and sharp. I’m shooting with the camera set to 14bit mode rather than the usual 12bit and the colours seem to be responding well during the RAW file conversions. I will of course have more to say in the near future on the D800 and will be comparing it to the Olympus EM5 and Sony RX10.

Now over the next couple of weeks I’m going to go a little silent on you all and won’t be posting. I need to dedicate some time to getting the new Lenscraft website up and running. I hope to have this finished by the end of October but I need to spend some dedicated time. This isn’t just a new website but an entire move of platform.

I hope you like the image, have a great weekend and I’ll be back online around the end of the month.

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.

Friday image No.036

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Isn’t it strange how your taste in photography seems to change. I shot this image just over three years ago. I recall considering this a poor trip at the time as I didn’t really come back with any “high octane” dramatic shots. What I did get was quite a lot of nice, tranquil scenes which I relegated to a folder on my hard drive and promptly forgot about.

Last week I was clearing out some images in order to start work on my new website (coming soon). That’s when I saw this image and wondered why I hadn’t bothered very much with it. Now that I look at it, I really like the scene and the colours.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 5

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Olympus EM5 with a 25mm Olympus lens.
Olympus EM5 with a 25mm Olympus lens. 1/50″ @ f/2.8 and ISO1600

Over recent years the range of prime lenses for the Micro 43 system has expanded greatly. For anyone who’s unsure, a prime lens is one with a fixed focal length for example 25mm. Again, what follows is a review of the lenses I have or have used (I have owned all of them at some time).

Panasonic 14mm

I still have this lens and it is a good performer. It was once a kit lens for one of the Panasonic systems (I forget which) so there is a ready supply of these second hand. I purchased mine second hand but it was sold as having been part of a kit but unused. The lens quality is very good with very little distortion. It doesn’t have a very wide maximum aperture but it’s better than the Panasonic 14-45 kit lens.

In terms of sharpness, it is marginally better than the 14-45 kit lens but you really do need to make a side by side comparison to see this. Where this lens does score highly is in its size and weight. It’s very light and very small. If you like to use a wide angle lens for your street photography, this is great. It’s also very useful for Landscapes as it gives the equivalent of a 28mm lens on full frame. Although many would suggest this isn’t wide enough for landscapes, it’s a very pleasing focal length. For around £100 used, this is a bargain lens.

Olympus 17mm f/2.8

There are two Olympus 17mm lenses and I have owned both. The distinguishing feature when looking at the description is the maximum aperture. The cheaper of the two has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. This version is very cheap at around £100 or less but I have seen people trying to pass these off as the more expensive f/1.8 lens discussed below. The two lenses do look different and certainly perform differently so beware. Be sure you know what you are buying.

Whilst this lens is cheap, small and light, I can’t really recommend it. It doesn’t perform anywhere near as well as the Panasonic 14-45 kit lens. Yes it has a wider maximum aperture but only just. In all honesty, if this is all you can afford and desperately want a 17mm prime lens, save your money and put it towards the next lens listed below – it’s worth the wait.

Olympus 17mm f/1.8

This lens is the complete opposite of the f/2.8 discussed above. I suspect some of the poor reviews you sometimes see listed are from people confusing it with the cheap version. This lens is beautifully made, performs amazingly well and just oozes quality. It has a metal construction and a reassuring weight whilst remaining small and compact. It will produce sharp images from wide open. It gives a beautiful shallow depth of field and is sharp into the corners with virtually no distortion. It really is a pleasure to use.

It also has a nice feature in that the end of the lens barrel will pull back to switch the lens into manual focus mode. When you do this it also reveals a nice depth of field scale; not quite as nice as a traditional manual prime but still very helpful. In short, this is a great lens and whilst a little more costly, the money shows in the quality of the lens and results. Highly recommended.

Panasonic 20mm

Some people rave about this lens and I have owned two of them now (but mine were the initial model and not the latest MKII model). I honestly can’t understand why people rate this lens so highly. The versions I have owned were very, very slow with autofocus and also quite noisy. Whilst the centre of the lens was a little sharper than the Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens the edge performance was worse. The lens is nicely compact but I couldn’t get on with it.

I acknowledge there is a strong following for this lens and I could have been unlucky enough to have two poor samples. I would urge caution if you are considering this lens and consider the Olympus 25mm discussed next as an alternative.

Olympus 25mm

This is a relatively new addition to the Olympus range of primes. All I can say is wow. I love this lens. It’s small, light, compact and really sharp. Performance is excellent as is the price. If you are considering the Panasonic 20mm prime mentioned above, do a side by side comparison with this lens. I find myself turning to the Olympus lens quite often now.

Olympus 45mm

This lens looks very similar to the 25mm Olympus mentioned above and is equally sharp. Again, this lens is highly recommended. This is a great lens with a lovely shallow depth of field.

Olympus 60mm Macro

If you want a dedicated macro lens then you don’t have many options. This lens looks unusual and is rather long. It is however an ideal focal length for a macro lens and super sharp. I really like this lens a lot although understand when some people say they can’t get on with it. Focus speed is OK but not terribly fast. I suspect this is why there is a range switch on the side so you can limit the range it tries to focus over. The only thing I don’t like this lens is the 1:1 magnification switch. Once in this mode you really need manual focus and if you accidently press the shutter button you can lose this level of magnification. You do really need to be focussing manually at this setting. Despite this the lens produces wonderful results and also makes a very capable 60mm prime for general use. You don’t need to use it as a macro lens all the time.

I hope this miniseries has helped people and if anyone has any additional comments on lenses not covered I would be delighted to hear them.

And I haven’t forgotten about revealing what my new camera is. More on that in the next week.

Friday image No.034

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Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens
Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens. Click the image to enlarge.

Yet another trip from my recent visit to Nantes in France.

This time I was walking along the river and spotted these three bird(two cormorants and a heron). They appeared quite tame as this was shot with my 45mm prime – it was the longest lens I had with me at the time. Fortunately it was the 45mm prime which is exceptionally sharp and will allow me to a high quality enlargement if required.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 3

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Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project
Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project

In this posting we will look at the lenses falling in the super wide angle category. I define this as being those that are wider than 24mm (full frame equivalent) or 12mm (Micro 43). At the time of writing there are only two zoom lens options which are described below. Headings are links to to see the lenses.

Super Wide Angle Zoom

Olympus 9-18mm

If you need a wider angle lens than the 12mm standard zoom you don’t have much choice. It’s either this lens or the Panasonic 7-14mm mentioned below. I own the Olympus 9-18 and really like it. It’s a sharp lens that performs well. At the wider angle end of the zoom range it will distort but the lens retains its sharpness. Some chromatic aberration is apparent but no more than you might expect from such a wide angle.

The lens is very light and small. It also collapses down on itself when not in use. This makes it very easy to carry and suitable for all sorts of camera design. Most importantly you can easily use filters on this lens, something that can be tricky with the Panasonic.

Panasonic 7-14mm

I can’t deny this is a sharper lens than the Olympus and is most certainly pro quality. The downside when compared to the Olympus is that it’s larger and quite a bit heavier although it’s still much smaller and lighter than a DSLR wide angle lens.

Despite its amazing performance, I opted not to buy this lens because of one key problem. The front element of the lens protrudes beyond the front of the lens making it very difficult to attach filters. If you can overcome this limitation and don’t mind that it’s quite a lot more costly than the Olympus then this is a great lens.

Deciding how to edit a photograph

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View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow
View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow

Following my last blog post on the Essential Skills for photography, the question was posed “Where I’m stuck is the step between picking the strongest image and playing with software. How do I decide what to do with it. ” This seemingly simple question is one of the most fundamental in photography and is one that I found myself wrestling with for a number of years. This is how I resolved the for myself. As I am a Landscape Photographer I will speak about scenes but you can apply this approach to most forms of photography.

The key to deciding how to edit an image doesn’t start when you download the image to your computer, it starts much earlier. It even starts before you even lift the camera to take the shot. It actually starts when you spot the opportunity to capture an image. When something catches your eye and you recognise there is a photograph to be taken, at that moment you should be working out what has captured your attention.

Having identified something that is attracting you to a scene you will begin to take photographs. It’s unlikely your first image will be what you wanted (if it is you are either amazingly talented or very lazy) so you need to experiment with angles and composition. As you work with a scene your vision for the image should become stronger. This is the vision that will become so important when you come to edit your image later.

Having a strong vision is the key to understanding how to edit your image.

Having selected the image that you want to work with; the one that best represents your vision, you should ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. What defects is the image suffering from that I need to correct? Perhaps it’s too bright or it looks a little flat. Perhaps it has a lot of dark areas which look ugly and need to be opened up. Spend time looking at the image and identify what you don’t like about it. Defects in the image hide your vision from the viewer.
  2. Now consider your vision and ask how can this image be enhanced to better convey my vision for the photograph? This should take you right back to the reason for taking the picture in the first instance. Why did you take the picture? How can you emphasise this aspect of the image to the viewer?

As you consider these questions, make notes about the changes that you would like to make. Don’t try to get all technical about how you will make the adjustments, just describe the changes. If you want to make some dark areas lighter, write that down. If you want to make the pinks more vibrant and colourful, write it down. If you think the image looks a little hazy and you want to give it more snap, write that down.

Once you have the list of changes you need to write out a plan for the adjustments you will make. Start with the global adjustments and work down to the smaller localised changes. Also try to make the corrections and fixes (question 1) before you make the enhancements (question 2).

I hope I haven’t made this sound easy as it’s not. It takes years of practice to develop your own styles and preferences as well as the skills necessary to be able to make the adjustments. But preserve and improvements will come.

Starting image for the scene above.
Starting image for the scene above.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 2

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In my last blog I introduced the first skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will try to explain another of these skills.

Communication and Vision

Vision is about understanding what we have seen that inspired us to want to take a picture. Once we understand this we can begin to think about how we want to represent this to others. This recognition is something that we need do this at the point we take the picture. If we don’t we will probably find later that we just didn’t quite capture the image right.

When we notice an opportunity and decide to take a picture, we may not make the best capture on the first effort. To know we have achieved the best result we need to take time (where possible) to explore a scene or subject. This is not just to check things such as composition and technical image quality but also to ensure our vision comes through as strongly. If you are not clear about what our vision is, how do we expect others to understand and appreciate your work.

The same argument also applies to being able to select the strongest image that best represents our vision. And when we come to work on our best image we need to understand how we want the finished image to appear. How should it look in order to best represent our vision. We need a clear image before we start to work on any adjustments.

The reason I included communication under this heading is that our image or images need to communicate our vision. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our photograph is our medium of communication but our vision is our message. The clearer our vision, the stronger and communication, the better people will hear us.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.