It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.
Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.
So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.
Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.
OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.
All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.
Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.
The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.
I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.
So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.
I should actually say my most disappointing camera was because there has been some remarkable changes with it. But first you need to hear a story to understand my disappointment.
Back in 2009 I purchased a Sony R1. For those of you don’t know, the R1 was a bridge camera with a fixed lens that was the size of a small DSLR at the time. It was very expensive new and had quickly lost favour with the general public. It was quite a weight really due in part to the huge lens. This was a 24-120mm lens made by Zeiss which was razor sharp. The 10Mpx sensor was the same one as used in some of the Nikon DSLRs at the time and was good at ISO 200 (base ISO) but quickly became noisy. The camera also lacked image stabilisation.
Despite its limitations the camera was a joy to use and produced amazing images. There are many fine art photographers who used this camera at the time and indeed I sold mine to one in 2011. Despite loving this camera I had become convinced that the Sony NEX5 was going to be a direct replacement for it but much smaller. Needless to say it wasn’t and I ended up switching to Micro 43, which I’m very pleased I did.
Roll forwards to December of last year and Sony launch the RX10. I didn’t pay much attention at the time based on past experience but then I say a picture of the RX10. It was clear that it was a reworked R1 with the same huge Zeiss lens. I did have some reservations about the 1″ sensor but already owning the RX100 I knew the sensor was quite capable. I purchased one immediately having traded in a very poor Panasonic 14-140mm lens.
The new RX10 was everything I wanted it to be. It reminded me so much of the R1 but improved. It handled well and meant no more lens switching. The lens range was now improved to 24-200mm with a fast f/2.8 constant aperture. I was so pleased.
But then came the let down. On paper this camera should perform brilliantly but when I processed the RAW files I couldn’t attain the sort of legendary image quality as the R1. At the time I was comparing this to the Olympus EM5 which is my main workhorse camera. The RX10 just seemed a bit, well soft in comparison. I tried all sorts, even convincing myself that the files were good enough. Once or twice I even came close to selling the camera had it not been for the excellent handling and convenience. In the end it was relegated to be my walking camera.
I hope you can now understand my disappointment.
Then to surprise recently I decided to open some of the RX10 RAW files in CaptureOne 8 (more on this some other time). The results were excellent. Image quality was not as “crisp” as the EM5 but then the images appeared more natural. The colours were also amazing.
At this time I also decided to update the firmware in the Sony as it was version 1.0 and version 2.0 was now available. Whilst the firmware talks about improvements to video, I’m sure they have done something to the focusing and image stabilisation. The camera now handles much better and I am getting much less shake than previously.
Over the past couple of weeks I have made a number of A2 prints from the RX10 files and they are really nice. There is a good feeling of depth to the images and they don’t feel so crisp that they appear unnatural.
In summary, a camera that was often left at home as it was disappointing has turned into one that I am happy to use and pleased to have purchased.
After I published the Friday Image No 20 I decided to review my Olympus EM5 shots. I had taken a few of the same location with the extremely sharp Olympus 45mm prime. You can see one particular example above.
What I noticed, that took me completely by surprise, is that I can see traces of noise in the EM5 image which isn’t present in the GM1 shot when viewed at 100% magnification. I have always been impressed by the EM5 images and just how clean the images are, but the GM1 appears to surpass this when both cameras are used at their base ISO.
If you are wondering why I find this so important, it’s because this noise becomes amplified in post processing, especially when enhancing images with structure and dynamic contrast tools. The less noise is present, the higher the quality of the finished image and the less noticeable any image artefacts are.
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.
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%.
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.
I have written in the past about two things that I would like to give an update on. The first is the software I use to perform Infrared RAW file conversion. The other is my impressions of Photo Ninja. As you will see in a moment the two are now linked.
When I first ha my Panasonic GX1 camera converted to shoot Infrared I had thought that I would be able to shoot images in RAW format and process them in Lightroom or Photoshop. I had read that there was a problem in doing this with Canon and Nikon RAW files as Adobe software rendered the image as shades of red with no other colour present. This prevents you from converting the image using “false colour” (do a search on Google for colour Infrared to see some examples). It also seemed to limit the quality of the image conversions as most of the image data was coming from just the red channel.
I wasn’t however worried by this problem as no one was reporting an issue with Panasonic conversions from Infrared RAW files. Unfortunately I can confirm it is a problem and also conclude that there can’t be many people using infrared converted Panasonic M43 cameras. If you want to know what I am talking about, here is an example of the above image in Lightroom 4.
My initial solution to this issue was to use the SilkyPix software that ships with Panasonic cameras that shoot RAW. This gave good results in managing image colour and allowed me to set a true white point so that images didn’t appear red. Once I had upgraded this (I took advantage of a very cheap special offer) the image quality was OK if not a little too smooth for my liking.
More recently I had some very promising infrared images but felt that none of my RAW converters were doing justice to the levels of detail present. I decided to try out the PhotoNinja software again and the results have convinced me to purchase the full version of the software. Yes it’s expensive but the results are visibly better. This is not just with Infrared images but colour also. Take a look at the comparisons below.
These are conversions from Lightroom, Silky Pix and PhotoNinja, all taken from the same RAW file. I should caveat this a little in that I know exactly what I am doing with Lightroom but am pretty much a novice in using SilkyPix and PhotoNinja. It’s therefore likely that better results can be achieved with both of these. It’s the same story in colour also with the PhotoNinja conversions producing more detail, especially if you sharpen them further post conversion.
Wondering why there is no SilkyPix comparison? Well it kept crashing when trying to open the files. I suspect there is a compatibility problem with Windows 8 but I need to do a little more digging. You might also notice the much better colour rendering from the PhotoNinja software which is far closer to the scene as this image was shot about 20 minutes before sunset in direct light.
So, if you are looking for a RAW converter to give the highest level of quality (and don’t mind the price) I would certainly take a look at PhotoNinja.
I won’t bore you with the details but all of my free time (including that I use for blogging) has vanished, at least for the short term. I am actually putting this blog together whilst trying to eat some lunch. Yesterday however I was fortunate to have a day out on a photography course designed to allow you to try out a camera – the Olympus OMD.
This Olympus Experience Day was put together by Olympus with pro landscape photographer Steve Gosling. I like Steve’s work a lot and having been on his “Business of Photography” course some years back so very interested in attending this day. The course was held at the RHS gardens in Harrogate and whilst not my usual subject matter I found a few things to shoot and try out the camera. What I thought was good (other than the exceptional value of the day) was that I had an OMD to myself for the entire day.
At the start of the day there was a short session to help delegates understand how to use the camera followed by a questions wrap up at the end. In between Steve spent time with each person individually to answer any questions they may have. I think this is a great way to allow people to try before you buy and I wish more manufacturers would follow the model (other than Hasselblad and Phase One as I can’t afford their hardware). It was also a great day with an experienced pro photographer and opportunity to draw on his experience and thinking.
Now you know I was impressed by the day, what about the camera.
I really like this camera, but to be honest I didn’t expect to at the start of the day. I had read some horror stories about the poor menu system which is something I have experienced before with my NEX5. I actually found the OMD’s menus quite logical and was able to set up the camera relatively quickly. It was certainly much better in my opinion than the NEX5 (when first launched).
I tried the camera with the 12-50 Olympus lens, my 14-45 Panasonic lens and my 45mm Olympus lens. It handled extremely well with all and felt very solid in the hands. I wasn’t however that impressed with the 12-50 lens other than a very nice macro function it offered.
To me, the most important aspect of a camera is how it handles and the image quality produced. I have to say, this is an exceptionally well made camera which feels very durable. The image quality is also very impressive for a Micro 43. Much of the day I was shooting at ISO400 or ISO800, something I would avoid with my GX1. The image above was captured inside a potting shed at ISO800 and my 45mm lens hand held. It’s very sharp with no camera shake and is very clean in terms of noise. In fact I can’t believe how clean the images from this camera are. I will have no issues submitting ISO800 images to stock libraries and believe me; I am very picky about this.
So will I buy one of these cameras? I would certainly like to. The only thing stopping me is that I have just sold my Canon 9500 printer with a view to upgrading to A2, so that’s my current priority. I may therefore need to stick with my trusty GX1’s for a while longer.