Friday Image No.107

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The Volcano on Vulcano. Olympus EM5 with 9-18mm Olympus lens.
The Volcano on Vulcano. Olympus EM5 with 9-18mm Olympus lens. Click to enlarge the image and get the real real experience.

I’m a little late today having been working solidly since around 07:30 this morning (it’s now 21:30). I have a backlog of work that seems to be getting longer every day and I have a full weekend and following week ahead of me. I need to cheer myself up and not just by dreaming of the Fuji XT2.

To make me feel better, here is one of the images from my recent volcano trekking trip to Italy. Here’s one from the rim of the volcano on the island of Vulcano. It’s actually a three image stich shot with the Olympus EM5 using the 9-18mm Olympus lens. The stitching was done in Lightroom.

Have a great weekend.

Continuing Fuji Thoughts

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Daybreak on the island of Stromboli. Captured with the Olympus EM5. read the text to find out why.
Daybreak on the island of Stromboli. Captured with the Olympus EM5. read the text to find out why.
It’s now been a few weeks since I purchased the Fuji X-T1 and I think it’s fair to say it’s been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how I have taken to the camera. But despite this it’s also been a huge learning experience for me and one that I am happy (now) that I have had. With this in mind I wanted to share some further thoughts about the camera in a few broad areas.

Handling & Build Quality

The camera is very well thought out and handles perfectly, at least for me. All the dials and buttons are where I would like to find them on the body, allowing me to work quickly. I find the layout and operation largely intuitive but so far I am probably using only a fraction of the features. I tend to shoot in Aperture Priority mode and then use exposure compensation to correct the exposure.

The only niggle that I have is that when I am changing the ISO dial, I sometimes catch the dial below this and set the camera to do multiple exposures or something equally annoying. With the EM5 this wouldn’t have bothered me as I tended to keep the ISO at the base 200. With the X-T1 I am much happier to push the ISO high for reasons I will mention shortly.

The build quality of the camera gives a lot of confidence. I have heard some people complain the body is too light, but I would say it’s about right and is in line with the EM5 that was my main camera.

The camera with lens attached is slightly larger than the EM5 and I probably need to find a new bag. I am struggling to fit a body and two lenses into my LowePro 140 which can take my EM5 and three lenses. I would say thought that size and weight of the Fuji kit is still acceptable as a travel and trekking camera.

Lens Range

The lens range is excellent although not as large as the Micro 43 range. I really like the build quality of the lenses, especially the super wide angle 10-24mm. Although there are a couple of lenses in the Micro 43 range that offer similar focal lengths these won’t accept filters due to the front element protruding. As I rely on lens filters heavily to achieve good exposures, this makes the Fuji system a real joy to use.

In the past I have tried the Micro 43 wide angles and then sold them because of the filter issue. Only the Olympus 9-18 remains in my kit as it will accept filters but it just doesn’t compare to the Fuji 10-24.

So far I have only tried 4 Fuji lenses. These are:

  • 10-24 – excellent
  • 16-55 – excellent
  • 55-200 – excellent
  • 18-135 – poor

It’s possible the 18-135 that I bought (and which has now been returned) was faulty. I experienced some focus issues with this lens as well as it appearing to exaggerate the watercolour effect (see below).

Overall the lenses that I have give me a great deal of confidence in the Fuji system.

I particularly like the Image Stabilisation in the lenses (although I would prefer it in the camera body). Despite this I seem to be able to shoot at some crazy shutter speeds handheld. Couple this with the excellent noise handling at high ISO (see image quality below) and you have a very flexible camera. It’s a real shame that the stabilisation is missing from the 16-55mm lens.

Image Quality

My initial thoughts on the image quality were that it was poor. I couldn’t believe this was a premium camera with no anti-aliasing filter as my result were so soft. With more use I have come to realise a few important points:

  • The water colour effect is a problem with the Adobe software but you can improve the results with careful sharpening, noise reduction and contrast/micro-contrast adjustment. The feedback on the “Fuji RAW File Conversion Challenge” was very insightful.
  • There are a number of factors that seem to exaggerate the water colour effect as mentioned below and you should try to minimise these in your shooting. This includes camera shake and getting the depth of field/focus point wrong.
  • Poor lens performance appears to exaggerate the Adobe water colour effect problem. Remember, lenses may not perform well across their entire focal range and aperture making the problem more difficult to pin down.
  • The water colour effect can be hidden if you are working on a screen with a high pixel density. If you are using a large screen with such as a 24” screen in HD resolution (1980 x 1020) you will likely see it much more than if you were using a 27” 5K Mac screen.
  • There are some great RAW converters out there which do a superb job of decoding the XTrans RAW file. Both Iridient and RAW Therapee produce better results for me than Adobe software, with fine detail being preserved and not becoming blocky. The Adobe software also appears to introduce a false pattern in distant foliage and which these other RAW converters avoid.
  • The images are very clean with noise not being evident. Even when I am shooting at ISO800 I have can happily turn off the noise reduction (Luminance and Colour) in order to better preserve fine details.
  • The RAW files are very flexible and stand up well to heavy processing. You are able to recover significant amounts of shadow and highlight detail without causing noise or other issues to become evident.
  • Colours are excellent and the film simulations supported in Lightroom are superb although sometimes a little contrasty. It’s therefore best to apply these first if you are using Lightroom. I also recently discovered that the Iridient RAW converter has its own version of these simulations which are also good and can be applied to other camera RAW files, not just Fuji.

Switching back to the EM5

Last week I took a bit of a break and went to Italy to hike up a few volcanoes. I decided not to take the Fuji as it was a little heavier and bulkier than the EM5. Overall I had the feeling the EM5 was a little like a toy camera in comparison to the Fuji. This is despite me having loved the EM5 for over three years. Now I am back and looking at the images I have captured, the RAW files don’t feel as flexible when applying image adjustments. I can also see much more fine noise in the images than with the Fuji RAW files, even when the EM5 is at base ISO.

In summary, I’m now sold on the Fuji. The only question now is do I carry out the rest of my plan to buy the Fuji X-T2 when its released? I’m really tempted by the increased pixels but would I be better upsizing the X-T1 images?

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Heeding my own Advice

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Remains of a volcano off the Island of Stromboli, Italy. Olympus EM5.
Remains of a volcano off the Island of Stromboli, Italy. Olympus EM5.

Around 18 months ago I published a book titled “Perfect Prints Every Time”. The book was intended to help people who struggle with print making, master the techniques and produce images that match their screens. Judging from the feedback I received the book appears to have helped a lot of people. Unfortunately, it didn’t help me – allow me to explain.

As regular readers may be aware, I recently purchased a MacBook Pro and have been very impressed. So impressed in fact that I have now upgraded my main office PC to an iMac and am in the process of switching across. As part of this I wanted to set up and use my printer (an Epson 3880) and this is where the fun started.

Now I have friends who use Macs and swear the screens come well calibrated and the colour handling is so good, you can general do without printer profiles. All you need to do is allow the printer to manage the colour. I have also seen some very well respected authorities on printing say the same. And just to prove this, I have looked through many excellent prints produced in this way with the same printer I’m using. Everything should be easy, right?

The first thing I noticed when trying to produce a print was how flat the print appeared, lacking both contrast and vibrancy. After consulting with a friend, he pointed out that I need to set the “Color Matching” section of the print driver to “Epson Color Controls” as shown below.

Color Matching in the Print Dialog
Color Matching in the Print Dialog

This would then allow me to set the “Print Mode” in the “Printer Settings” tab of the print driver to be “AccuPhoto HD2” and then set the “Color Mode”.

Setting the Print Mode in the Print Dialog
Setting the Print Mode in the Print Dialog

After making these changes I found the prints had improved but they still didn’t look like the image on screen. They were quite dark and still lacked contrast. I then remembered he had also advised increasing the Contrast and Brightness settings in the Lightroom Print module. These changes improved the results but the print still didn’t come close to matching the image on the excellent Mac screen or what I could produce when printing from my PC.

I decided it was time to check the screen calibration of the Mac and used the inbuilt screen calibration routine that comes with the Mac. The new calibration appeared identical to the old one and the images looked great on the screen. I decided to copy one of the images over to my PC to see how it appeared there. Amazingly I found the image was too dark and lacked contrast.

It was at this point that I realised I needed to go back to basics. I pulled out my Color Munki Photo calibration unit and installed the software to the Mac. I ran the screen calibration first and found the screen profile produced lacked both contrast and brightness when compared with the Mac profile. I decided to edit a couple of images and then copy these over to my PC. This time I had a good match between both systems.

Having managed to calibrate the monitor I decided to produce a new printer profile for my paper using the Color Munki on the Mac. With this new profile installed I soft proofed the image in Lightroom, adjusting it so that the soft proof matched the original (un-proofed) image. The resulting print was a near perfect match for the soft proofed image.

So there you have it in a nutshell. Calibrate your monitor, use the correct print driver for your paper and soft proof your images, adjusting them to match your finished image. I could have saved myself hours of wasted effort if I had only just followed my own advice.

Embarrassing!

Friday Image No. 106

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Fuji XT1 converted in Lightroom with built in Fuji mono profile.
Fuji XT1 converted in Lightroom with built in Fuji mono profile.

I thought that I would share another image from the Fuji XT1 for this week’s Friday image. This was from last weekend and is a three image stitch. The lens was the 16-55 f/2.8 and the image is very sharp – even converted from RAW in Lightroom. Now that I’m starting to get used to the Fuji I’m really beginning to love this camera.

I’m going to take a break from blogging next week as my schedule is very hectic. I have devoted a lot of time recently to experimenting with the Fuji and launching my new HDR book. I need to spend some time catching up a little on other things.

Have a great weekend and see you all soon.

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Further Fuji Thoughts

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rwhalley_xt1_2016_09_10_dsf3221
Fuji XT1 + 16-55 f/2.8 lens.

At the weekend I managed to take the Fuji XT1 out for a full day’s photography. In short, I loved using it but there was a nagging concern throughout that my images were being affected by the possible water colour effect. Am I right to be worried or am I imagining problems where there aren’t any?

Here’s an update following the day:

Initially I purchased two lenses, a 10-24mm and 18-135mm. The 18-135mm was always going to be a bit of a compromise in terms of image quality but I reasoned that the trade-off between optical performance and the convenience of using one lens was acceptable. In the end, a lot of the images I found unacceptable were shot with this lens so it went back.

A lot of the “image failures” I have found relate to loss of fine detail in rocks and foliage, particularly in the mid distance (20m-100m). The Lightroom and Photoshop RAW converters do seem to exaggerate this effect but I suspect quite a lot of the problem relates to the lens:

  • I may have bought a bad copy of the 18-135mm as a lot of people love this lens and swear by it.
  • It could be diffraction was setting in earlier than I would expect from a quality lens and this could then be exaggerated by the RAW conversion.
  • It could be (very fine) camera shake from using the lens at longer apertures although the IS should deal with that. I also saw this with the camera on a tripod so I don’t believe it’s the issue.

Whatever the cause, the lens has been exchanged for a 16-55 and 55-200 which appear to produce good image quality more consistently. Whilst I can still detect a problem with Lightroom RAW conversion using images shot with these lenses, it’s now much less of a problem and the images are acceptable. Both of the lenses are good performers and the 16-55 is outstanding. Although it doesn’t have IS, the optics are excellent and the focal range is perfect (for me).

The use of these lenses has though helped me refine my thinking further.

Lightroom and Photoshop do still produce a watercolour effect as well as some other “problems” that I don’t like. This may not be as bad as it once was but I can still see it in Landscape images, especially where there is fine detailed foliage in the distance. I often see a false pattern effect in the foliage of distant trees and it doesn’t look natural to me.

Click the image to zoom in. Tree foliage takes on an odd look.
Click the image to zoom in. Tree foliage takes on an odd look.

Fine detail in RAW files converted with Adobe also seems to become “blocky” when sharpened which may cause some of the fine detail to become lost.

Click image to zoom in - Grass has a blocky appearance rather than showing fine detail.
Click image to zoom in – Grass has a blocky appearance rather than showing fine detail.

If I use Lightroom for RAW conversion, I now prefer a sharpening Radius of 0.7 or less. I then set the Detail slider to around 85 before adjusting the Strength setting. This usually requires a Strength setting of at least 30-45 but sometimes more. I also leave the threshold at 0 as increasing it also seems to cause the blocky effect I mention. Colour and Luminance noise reduction are both set to 0 and only introduced gradually where problems are found.

Grass is more natural with the finer settings
Grass is more natural with the finer settings (click to zoom or you can’t see the difference)

 

Trees are also more natural
Trees are also more natural (click to zoom or you cant see the difference)

Please keep in mind these are RAW conversion/capture settings only. Once the image has been further processed additional sharpening is applied and the image seems to respond well to the additional sharpening. Images which have the “blocky” effect I mention don’t appear to respond well to additional post conversion sharpening. You may think I’m being picky and it is hard to see from screen grabs, but it does make a difference to the image.

There are definitely better RAW converters than Lightroom and Photoshop for Fuji RAW files. The three best RAW converters that I have found in terms of being able to render fine detail are:

  1. Iridient (Mac only – I have now purchased this)
  2. RAW Therapee (Free but complicated)
  3. PhotoNinja (quite expensive)

All three seem to do a much better job than the Adobe RAW converters and having tried these on a large range of Landscape images they all do a great job. I can’t though decide which is best – it’s probably Iridient.

Incidentally, the size and resolution of your screen definitely plays a part in whether you see an issue with the conversions or not. I have now tested the RAW conversions using a MacBook Pro, iMac 27” 5K retina display and a PC with a 24” screen at 1920 x 1080 pixels. The two Apple machines don’t display any problem when using the Adobe RAW converters but when the converted image is moved to the PC (with the lower resolution screen) the problems can be clearly seen. The images also tend to have been over sharpened for the PC dislay.

When shooting with the Fuji I have noticed a couple of other problems that may be relevant to the question of image quality:

  1. I was trying some long exposure shots with the 55-200 lens. The exposure was around 10” using a 10 stop ND filter and the camera was having difficulty focussing automatically. I switched to manual focus using a combination of focus peaking and focus assist and found I needed to focus at infinity. When I reviewed the results though I found they were out of focus even though I was certain I focussed correctly. At first I thought the problem was camera shake but I repeated the exercise a number of times. Each time I found I needed to reset the focus to infinity between shots suggesting the focus is shifting. When I switched to autofocus and managed to pick up a point in the far distance to focus on. The result was a sharp image. I’m not sure what quite is happening here but I was able to repeat the problem.
  2. After shooting with the very forgiving micro 43 format I may be focussing too near to the camera. This is limiting my depth of field and may be seen in some images as a lack of fine detail in the mid distance (but not exactly image blur). If you then combine this with the “painterly effect” of the Adobe RAW converter, the effect is further exaggerated.

In summary, I am now achieving much better results and love using the camera and lenses. I am even considering stepping up to the XT2 in the future, which was my original plan before encountering this problem.

My tips for Fuji users who suffer from the painterly effect are to try the following:

  1. Pay close attention to lens quality and be honest. Do you see the effect on all images or is it at certain focal lengths and or apertures?
  2. Try a different RAW converter (any of the three I mention seem to minimise the issue).
  3. Be sure to use a fast shutter speed (probably twice as fast as you might otherwise) or tripod mount the camera.
  4. Ensure you select a good point of focus and aperture to maximise depth of field.
  5. Try shooting the same image at various apertures to check where diffraction kicks in and if this causes the water colour effect.

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Book Launch: Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

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Four image HDR blend with Tone Mapping in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
Four image HDR blend with Tone Mapping in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

 

A few years back HDR became for many people one of the most hated terms in photography. I believe this was in part due to the overuse of techniques that produced extreme examples of HDR. It was probably also due to HDR being used to resurrect images that should have been allowed to die a natural death. In short, if you don’t like the HDR treatment and style of image you have typically seen, you may not be interested in HDR.

But by disregarding HDR techniques you are also disregarding a very useful tool that help you produce images of excellent quality. The key to this is being able to master and control the traits of HDR that we often pick up on. The image at the top of this post for example is an HDR image yet appears to be a natural photograph; the HDR treatment has been chosen to suit the image. The same can be said of the following black and white image.

Three image HDR in Nik HDR Efex Pro with B&W post processing in Nik Silver Efex
Three image HDR in Nik HDR Efex Pro with B&W post processing in Nik Silver Efex

My latest book which has just launched on Amazon, provides you with the tools necessary to control the HDR process and look using Nik HDR Efex. It follows the proven and popular format of marrying information with hands on practical exercises.

  • The first art of the book discusses how to shoot and prepare HDR image sequences prior to merging.
  • The book then covers the process of generating the HDR image as well as applying Tone Mapping techniques.
  • The book then concludes with three full length worked examples for which you can download the accompanying image files from my Lenscraft website. This allows you to follow the process on your own computer from merging the initial images through to post production enhancement with other Nik filters.
Mastering Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
Mastering Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

The book is priced at just £3.99 (or similar in other currencies) and can be purchased from Amazon in the Kindle format.

Links to the book on Amazon UK and Amazon US are given below. Alternatively, you can search for the book title “Mastering Nik HDR Efex Pro 2”.

Link to Amazon UK

Link to Amazon US

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Friday Image No. 105

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Scalber Force, Settle, The Yorkshire Dales.
Scalber Force, Settle, The Yorkshire Dales.

I love this waterfall. It’s called Scalber Force and is just outside of Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. I actually shot this image back in April and in colour it doesn’t look good. But converted to Blakc and White it seems to work ok.

It seems though as if I were there just yesterday. I can’t believe that Summer has been and gone. I think I need to get out more.

Have a great weekend everyone.