GX1

Walking through History

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The dam at Ladybower. Captured on a Panasonic GX1 converted to shoot infrared then processed in Nik Silver Efex Pro and Nik Analog Efex.
The dam at Ladybower. Captured on a Panasonic GX1 converted to shoot infrared then processed in Nik Silver Efex Pro and Nik Analog Efex.

With it being a Bank Holiday in the UK today and for once the weather not being terrible, I went for a walk. I like quite near to the Peak District National Park but for some reason I seldom visit. Today I decided I wanted a good walk in the hills so drove over to Ladybower reservoir which is about 50 minutes from my house.

When I first became interested in photography I remember seeing some old images of the dam at Ladybower and I thought these images were wonderful. The Victorians certainly knew how to engineer wonderful structures but the age of the images also made these more appealing.

I recall visiting the area about 10 years ago in the hope of being able to recreate these wonderful images but it wasn’t to be. Today I was able to create something that I quite liked using my Infrared camera. But it wasn’t until I took the image into Nik Analog Efex and applied a little emotion that the image came to life. Trying to create an image such as the one above was almost impossible for me 10 years ago but today it took minutes.

I wonder what photography will be like in another 10 years.

Infrared Filters

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Canal near to my house. Shot on an IR converted GX1 but with an IR850nm filter on the lens. Halation effect added in Photoshop.
Canal near to my house. Shot on an IR converted GX1 but with an IR850nm filter on the lens. Halation effect added in Photoshop.

Over the weekend I published my spring newsletter. Those of you who subscribe and who have had an opportunity to read the latest issue will know that the main article explores the options for infrared photography (including some that cost very little). As I was writing this it got me thinking that I wanted to shoot some Infrared film using my Hasselblad XPan which I haven’t used for about a year.

Choices for film are very limited these days so it was either Ilford SFX (which isn’t really a true infrared film) or Rollei IR400. I purchased a few rolls but realised I didn’t have a 49mm Infrared filter for the XPan lens, so needed to turn to eBay. I also realised I had sold my light meter thinking (incorrectly) that I wouldn’t need it again, so ended up needing to buy another.

Anyway, whilst searching for a 49mm Infrared filter (720nm strength) I also had a quick look for an 850nm Infrared filter and found quite a few. For anyone who is unfamiliar with these filters they will block out light with a wavelength shorter than the filter strength. For example a 720nm filter blocks light with a shorter wavelength, effectively blocking visible light but allowing infrared wavelengths through.

The reason for wanting a 52mm 850nm IR filter (which incidentally only cost £10 including postage) was so I could use it with my Infrared camera. When I had the camera converted to infrared I had a choice of having it fitted with either 720nm filter or an 850nm filter. The 850nm filter gives a more dramatic effect and can only be used to produce black and white images. I opted for the 720nm filter as this allows you to create some false colour effects. By using a screw in 850nm filter on the lens it’s like having my camera converted with the stronger filter.

When the new filters arrived I checked them. The 720nm filter made no difference to the IR camera but blocked the visible light from a standard (unconverted camera) so I knew it was a good filter. The 850nm filter when attached to a lens on my infrared camera caused a loss of about 2 stops of light making it very usable for handheld shooting. It also caused a colour shift to blue in the image but this is probably because I didn’t bother setting a custom white balance. The blue tint was easily corrected during the RAW conversion.

Now here’s the interesting thing, when I used the 850nm filter on the infrared camera, although the shutter speed was slower by 2 stops, the image quality was better. I didn’t take sufficient images to check this out properly but across about 10 scenes, the 850nm images appeared to have sharper and finer detail in all cases. I can’t explain why as in fact I had expected the opposite to happen. I’m going to keep a close eye on this as the light starts to get stronger and better for shooting infrared.

Friday image No.010

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Captured on a GX1 Infrared converted camera.
Captured on a GX1 Infrared converted camera.

As some of you may already have gathered, I love Infrared Photography. It’s much more frustrating than traditional photography to create good images but the challenge makes it more rewarding. It also opens up a new world of seeing as scenes can take on a completely different appearance. Also, when the time of day or weather isn’t great for traditional photography you may find that it is great for Infrared.

Here’s one of my Infrared images that I wanted to share. Captured last March on a trip to San Francisco (wow is it really almost a year ago). The scene is very ordinary and the light was a bit too harsh to create a good image. Looks much better in Infrared.

Have a great weekend.

The Friday Image 005

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GX1 Infrared image
GX1 Infrared image

I missed sharing my Friday Image over the Christmas and New Year break so here is the first one of the New Year.

I shot this image back in March last year on a trip to San Francisco. I don’t know the name of this building and the only location details I have are that I was in the Financial district (I think) when I shot it. The capture was made using a Panasonic GX1 that had been converted to shoot Infrared.  I know most infrared images tend to involve trees, plants and water but it’s easy to forget you can get some great results in the city.

I also plan to produce one of my fact sheets for this image, describing how it was processed because it makes quite an interesting study (well I think so at least). Because the image was shot on a digital infrared converted camera there really isn’t as much information in the colour channels as you might expect from a standard colour shot. My plan is to produce an enlargement for printing at A2 so it will take some careful processing to achieve this given the nature of the image file. I will put a note on the blog once the fact sheet is available.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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.

Big Print from a Little Camera

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Print mounted in my front room
Print hung in my front room. I won’t tell you about the fun I had trying to hang this. The house is 200 years old and the walls are somewhat uneven and the plaster prone to crumbling when drilled.

Here’s something that I have wanted to do for a long time, produce a large print from a Micro 43 camera. When I say large, this one is 62″ x 25″. As you can see from the picture here, the print is just a few inches short of the length of the Sofa (which is a 3 seater).

The image was shot in Death Valley and is actually 4 images stitched (with a 50% overlap). The images were shot using a Panasonic GX1 which was tripod mounted and the stitching was done in Hugin. In case you are not aware of Hugin, it’s a freeware stitching application (that’s the simplest way to describe it) which I absolutely love. Here is the resulting image which I have previously shared on this blog.

One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin.
One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin.

And in case you are interested, here is a section from the bottom right which is shown at 100%. This section has been taken after the image was resized to create the print above. This is approximately a 200% increase in the print size and was achieved using Akvis Magnifier.

Image section at 100% magnification following a 200% size increase in Akvis Magnifier.
Image section at 100% magnification following a 200% size increase in Akvis Magnifier.

I had the image produced by White Wall and I am very impressed with the quality and service. It’s actually a Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive DPII. The print has then been bonded onto Aluminium Matt Acrylic glass and the whole thing has been framed. I have to say, I am impressed and can certainly recommend White Wall from my experience.

There are however a few things to watch out for when producing a print of this size as its quite an investment:

  1. Ensure that you download the colour profile for the paper/print process you are going to use. You should then soft proof your image and check for out of gamut colours. When I did this I found that some of my orange highlights were out of gamut and if I hadn’t corrected this the image would have appeared flat.
  2. Sharpen your image at the final size before you upload it. The White Wall ordering workflow allows you to upload your JPG or TIFF image. It’s then possible to select a larger image and have the system scale this for you. I preferred to scale my image first so that I could sharpen this for the final output.
  3. If you follow my approach and scale your image before upload, I suggest printing a number of sections from the finished image (at 100% resolution). This enables you to judge the quality of the finished image before committing to the transaction.
  4. Now that I have the print I have checked the sample print I made and can directly compare the sharpness and detail. The White Wall print is very good and compares favourably with the image sections I printed on an Epson 3880. The Epson is however slightly sharper. If I were repeating the exercise I would add a little more sharpening. At the time I used Nik Sharpener Pro which allows you to set variables such as viewing distance and resolution. I used a viewing distance of up to 2 feet and a resolution of 2880 x 1440. Looking at the results I should probably have set the viewing distance to “6 to 10 feet” or perhaps even used the Continuous Tone option at 300dpi. It might even be an idea to contact White Wall and ask for a little more information on the Lambda printer as well as recommended Output Sharpening levels.

The only regret that I have is that I picked the Matt Acrylic Glass. One of the things that prompted me to do this was a visit to the gallery of Rodney Lough Jnr. when I was in San Francisco. The images in the gallery appeared to use a similar process (although it was suggested they did this in house and it was unique – I doubt that).

My reason for choosing matt acrylic was to avoid reflections but it doesn’t really. I really wish I had gone for the gloss and tried to counter the reflection with some good lighting – something I still need to invest in for this print.

I suspect I will try another print but this time on gloss and not quite so large.

Another Bag Update

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The cotton grass on the moors this year is amazing. I have never seen so much. From a distance it looks like patches of snow.
The cotton grass on the moors this year is amazing. I have never seen so much. From a distance it looks like patches of snow.

The weather here in the UK is absolutely glorious at the moment. This is especially unusual in the area where I live (Saddleworth) which is well known for being wet (and unfortunately for the Moors Murders back in the 1960’s). Yesterday I took full advantage of the weather and went for a 12 mile walk over the moors. I did of course take my camera and used my belt pack discussed here recently to carry the equipment.

Front view of my Marmot pack
Front view of my Marmot pack

The weather for photography was poor as it was simply too bright and the light too harsh even at 9:30 in the morning. The only camera that was likely to work reasonably well for me was my Infrared GX1 which loves these conditions. My decision was therefore to take the GX1 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 together with 3 lenses (Panasonic 14-45mm, Olympus 9-18mm and a 7.5mm Fisheye). As I wanted to do a few comparison shots for depth of field against the MD I also popped the Sony RX100 in there together with its leather carrying case. Finally a couple of spare batteries, a HiTech ND graduated filter, filter holder and lens adapter ring were added.

Unfortunately not everything listed here fit into the belt pack. In the end I had the 14-45mm lens attached the OMD body in the main compartment of the bag. The 9-18mm lens and the Fisheye lens were both packed in Neoprene lens pouches and placed in the main compartment alongside the OMD. The GX1 body was placed in a front pocket where it fitted easily without a lens attached. The filters, accessories and batteries all went into two internal pockets. Only the RX100 had to be carried separately but that’s not a big issue.

Overall the bag was perfect and far, far better than I had expected and seemed to carry a huge amount of equipment. The entire kit was very light and easy to carry. When walking any distance I had the belt pack behind me where I didn’t notice it. When I stopped to take some pictures I simply spun the belt pack around (without needing to remove it) and everything became easily accessible. Whilst I didn’t take a backpack on this occasion the bag when worn on the front was not uncomfortable and would still easily allow the use of a backpack.

Was it perfect? Very nearly but I do reserve the right to change my mind after further use. My only minor problem was with the lens neoprene lens puches. I have a habit of carrying my lens hoods attached in a reverse position on the lens. When the 14-45 lens had the hood lens attached it wouldn’t fit properly into the lens pouch I had taken. This isn’t a huge problem as I do have larger pouches I could use but I wanted to avoid large pouches. I may therefore not take the lens hoods in the future.

I think this is quite a good carrying solution for a small micro 43 kit and doesn’t look like a camera bag.

This Camera Rocks

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Golden Canyon. Death Valley, USA
Golden Canyon. Death Valley, USA. Click the image to enlarge.

First, I must apologise for the visual pun and poor quality of my humour. I also must admit to a rather strange fascination with rock and a desire to photograph rock. I can’t put my finger on why but I just love the texture and sometimes the colour of rock. The image above is typical of what I like to shoot, where detail and texture are all important. The ability of my camera and lens combination to capture this detail is therefore very important to me. In this example it was a Panasonic GX1 and Panasonic 14-45mm lens (this by the way was the old kit lens for the GF1 and is a real cracker in terms of the image quality it can produce).

As some of you reading this will know, I recently made the decision to sell all my DSLR equipment and switch completely into Micro 43 format cameras. This lead to the purchase of an Olympus OM-D E-M5 which I am very impressed with but leaves me with a Panasonic GX1 doing very little. I had been contemplating selling the GX1 body given that it is pretty similar to the OMD. It produces the same size images and has nothing about it that elevates it beyond the OMD. I can’t however bring myself to sell it.

The GX1 has now come down to such a low price that I don’t feel it’s worth my effort to sell it and that I may be better keeping it. The body is pretty tiny and fits neatly in my pocket or camera bag as a backup. The build quality is very good. And when I look at images such as the one above it amazes me what quality the camera can produce (when shooting in RAW format). Take a look at this section viewed at 100%.

Image detail viewed at 100%
Image detail viewed at 100% shows superb clarity, sharpness and detail resolution. Click the image to enlarge.

So for now at least, I think it’s going to stay in my camera bag – it makes an ideal travel camera.

So, that was the blog I had originally intended to post. The only thing is, the image wasn’t shot on a GX1 at all. It was shot on my Sony RX100 but I had copied it to the wrong location. That’s right, it was captured on a compact camera. WOW!

I wanted to end this blog with a question. Which image is better, the colour one above or the black and white conversion below? I can’t make my mind up but I’m interested to know what others think. I think I prefer the colour image but it’s a close run thing.

B&W conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
B&W conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Click the image to enlarge.

More Details

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Beach rock detailed captured on a Panasonic GX1 - the right tools for the job make the job much easier.
Beach rock detailed captured on a Panasonic GX1 – the right tools for the job make the job much easier.

I have to admit that I have never been very good at taking detail shots. I’m not talking here about macro work but about identifying and shooting abstract details and patterns close up. This is the sort of work that photographers such as David Ward have become well known for.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate this work, I do; I am actually in awe of people who are able to do this well. I simply struggle to create something pleasant myself.

When I look back at the times I have tried this in the past, I seem to struggle to visualise and spot the opportunities. I think this is partly because much of this type of work uses a square format. As much as I like the square format, finding it very balanced, I can’t seem to create compositions within it myself. If I do happen to spot something I then find it difficult to translate this into a composition on the camera. My shots never looked quite right.

Recently however I took a trip to Whitby with some photography friends. When the conditions became less than ideal for Landscape work we switched to trying to capture details on the beach. Typically this would be things such as sand patterns and rock details. At first I tried using my DSLR (which I have now sold) but then switched to using the GX1 Micro 43 and Sony RX100 compact camera. Suddenly I found this world opened up to me simply because I wasn’t hunched uncomfortably over a tripod trying to use a DSLR.

I found that I was able to visualise and compose much better images by holding the camera away from me and using the image on the back of screen as feedback. Whilst I still struggled to compose images within a square frame, at least I was able to see and appreciate this. I then switched format and surprisingly (because you don’t see it often with detail shots) I found the 16:9 format much more rewarding.

Whilst I still have a way to go with producing this sort of work I have at least captured some images that I might be happy to share. I will also be trying this type of photography much more in the future.

I’m Getting Closer

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Another of the Olympus OMD images shot at Haweswater recently. The quality of this camera is amazing. It has also shown me what the 14-45mm Panasonic lens is capable of.
Another of the Olympus OMD images shot at Haweswater recently. The quality of this camera is amazing. It has also shown me what the 14-45mm Panasonic lens is capable of.

Firstly I want to say there has been a great response to my previous post about my search for a Micro 43 bag. Thanks to everyone who has added comments and to those who have emailed me with various suggestions. I really appreciate your help and there have been some great ideas which I am going to look at properly over the next week.

At the time I wrote the last post I had been considering one of the ThinkTank bags (I think it was the Speed Demon v2) which straps round your waste and also has a shoulder strap. It can therefore be used as a shoulder bag or strapped around your waist. When around your waste you can wear it at the back, front or even to the side. The shoulder strap can also be worn around the neck/over the shoulder to add extra support. I was actually near to buying one of these when I realised it was still going to be too bulky and probably not what I was really looking for.

Another of the suggestions that came in via email was to use the bottom half of an Orion Lowepro backpack (thanks Ed). This is an old model now but the idea was that there was a split backpack where the top half could be used to carry clothing and food whilst the bottom half was for your camera gear. What was special about this design was that the two halves could be detached. The bottom part could then be turned into a belt pack and also had a detachable shoulder strap just like the ThinkTank bag.

Ed provided a picture of his kit in the bag and it looked to fit great. More importantly I actually have one of these bags in the loft so I decided to get it down. Unfortunately this still isn’t the solution. The idea is sound and the bag is extremely well padded. This however makes it rather bulky so trying to strap this to your front whilst wearing a backpack makes you feel very confined. More importantly I felt a little unsteady and decided it could make me unstable when out on the hills.

What all this searching for a suitable bag has made me realise is that I might already own the solution. About 8 years back I bought a Marmot belt pack. The idea was to keep a drink, waterproof and food in this pack if I was out carrying my large camera backpack with SLR. It is however very light (really it was made for fell runners), quite spacious and would allow me to carry most of my Micro 43 gear comfortably (we shall see). It also has an internal waterproof pocket that is perfect for batteries and memory cards. One of the front packets would be perfect for my Infrared GX1 and the side pockets would fit my larger Panasonic 45-200mm lens.

Front view of my Marmot pack
Front view of my Marmot pack

If I now purchase some Neoprene lens wraps (GBP7 each) I can protect the lenses from rubbing against each other. The whole lot can then be placed into a waterproof Exped bag that fits into the main pocket. You can guage the capacity in the next image.

Inside the bag is the OMD with 14-45 lens attached, the 12-50 Olympus lens and in the size pocket the bulky (in comparison) Panasonic 45-200.
Inside the bag is the OMD with 14-45 lens attached, the 12-50 Olympus lens and in the size pocket the bulky (in comparison) Panasonic 45-200.

This still isn’t perfect but it’s the right size, weight and more importantly it’s comfortable when I am wearing my backpack. I still think I will end up buying a 14-150mm lens to prevent lots of lens switching but this solution allows easy access to all my equipment when out on the hills.

And a final word, please keep the suggestions coming as my solution isn’t perfect but your might be.