Month: October 2016

Friday Image No. 111

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Cannon Beach, USA. Olympus EM5
Cannon Beach, USA. Olympus EM5

This isn’t my usual style of image but I thought I would share it. The shot was taken on my trip to America earlier in the year. The location is a Cannon Beach which I absolutely loved. It reminds me a lot of St Ives in Cornwall but with an American slant. It seems somehow almost too perfect.

Anyway, I was out for a stroll along the beach and deep storm clouds started to roll in. But rather than raining, they created a superb light show. Despite this being superbly beautiful, it was quite dark and difficult to capture. Trying to process this in my usual style resulted in failure so I thought I would become a little more artistic, emphasising the elements of the scene.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

Fuji XT2 First Impressions

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Fuji XT2 - The Moors above Saddleworth.
Fuji XT2 – The Moors above Saddleworth.

This last weekend was possibly a turning point for me. My XT2 has finally arrived and I’m excited. I haven’t been excited about a new camera in a long time. It’s hard to say what’s different this time but there is just something about the Fuji. The XT system and lenses is very high quality but compact. It seems to have many of the benefits of the Olympus EM5 but with improved image quality. That’s something that was difficult for me to admit at first as the Olympus has served me well for several years and is an excellent camera. Let me share my first impressions with you.

Removing the camera from the packaging for the first time, it feels very much like the XT1. The various dials which felt well positioned on the XT1 are all still there but with a few more options. What I liked about the XT1 was that everything seemed to be where you would expect to find it and the XT2 is very similar.

There are a few points though that Fuji should be specifically commended for:

  • The eyecup on the XT2 is just like the replacement eye cup on the XT1. This is an optional accessory with the XT1 (and worth investing in).
  • The screen protectors for the XT1 fit the XT2.
  • The battery from the XT1 fits and works fine in the XT2. Sony is the only other manufacturer that seems to adopt this approach.

Looking over the camera controls I immediate notice one enhancement. I am very fussy about where I place the focus point and the XT2 just made life easier for me. The back of the camera now has a small joystick with which you can move the point of focus. I used to have one of these on my old Sony R1 and I loved it. You can even use it with the camera to your eye.

The other enhancement that I like is the two-way articulated rear LCD. I don’t particularly find the swivel screens very useful as I tend not to get horizon skewed. With the XT2, the screen moves on a hinge but there is a second hinge allowing it to tilt either horizontally or vertically. Nice.

In short, this feels a lot like the XT1 but with a few nice features thrown in.

When I bought the XT2 I purchased it as a kit with the 18-55 lens. Although I already have the amazing 16-55 I decided I couldn’t pass up the extra lens for only £250 more. The 16-55 whilst excellent is bulky and doesn’t have IS. The 18-55 is much smaller and does have IS. Whilst it’s not wide enough for all my work, it’s fine as part of my walking kit.

This lens also allows me to use the camera with my LowPro 140 shoulder bag. I use this bag for trekking as it allows me to also use a good sized day pack. The XT2 with 18-55 lens, together with the 55-200 lens all fit into the shoulder bag.

In terms of the 18-55 performance, the results are very good. It’s very sharp and seems to perform well across the entire focal range as well as into the corners. The only problem I’m finding is that after shooting a lot with Micro 43 cameras, I keep misjudging the depth of field with the Fuji. Given how sharp the images are, it’s not something I’m happy about. I need to get used to the larger sensor.

The colours from the XT2 RAW files are excellent as is the detail. I have been looking hard for signs of water colour effect and false pattern (wiggly worm) when using Lightroom but so far none. I did spot what I thought was some false pattern in a couple of images but then realised how to avoid it. I need to consider this more with the XT1 but if I have hit on something I will share it soon.

Shadow detail is also very good and the images are clean when lightened. I could apply a substantial amount of shadow recovery to a very contrasty scene and the result were very natural. The film simulations are also very nice in Lightroom.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the XT2. I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces in a proper shoot.

Fuji XT2 - The Moors above Saddleworth.
Fuji XT2 – The Moors above Saddleworth.

Nik Silver Efex Video

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Yesterday I published a new video on my You Tube Channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYMWL3WXU9QMeOUhD3lOpEw

This is one is another of those videos focussing on the overlooked adjustments. People often overlook some of the most powerful adjustments in favour of the most obvious. If you want to create some black and white conversions reminiscent of film, watch this short video.

I hope you enjoy.

Another RAW Processor

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Forest Scene. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens. Post processing in Ididient + On 1 Effects
Forest Scene. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens. Post processing in Ididient + On 1 Effects

Since I purchased the Fuji XT1 (and had the fright of my life due to soft, distorted images) I have become a little obsessed by image quality. The results I can now achieve using the XT1 are far beyond my expectations. I’m even beginning to question the need for my Sony A7R, especially as I have the Fuji XT2 on order. I need to give this some serious thought.

Anyway, back to the purpose of today’s blog post. I should stress that whilst I am using the Fuji XT1 RAW files as an example, other RAW files also see improvements. Whatever your camera, you need to experiment with alternate RAW converters.

So far I have concluded the best converters for the XT1 files appear to be RAW Therapee, Photo Ninja and Iridient. This is purely in terms of ability to render fine detail and image sharpness. If you’re not a Landscape Photographer, this might not be as important to you.

I have now returned to test Affinity Photo and have been quite impressed.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Affinity Photo is an image editor with Photoshop like capabilities. Currently it’s only available for the Mac but its priced well and includes a RAW developer module. If you are a Mac user and want an alternative to Adobe, it’s worth exploring. It also costs less than Elements and Iridient (but infinitely more than RAW Therapee which is free).

In this test, I processed the same RAW file (from which the above image was produced) and developed this in both Iridient and Affinity Photo. The conversion was done on a Mac and then the resulting TIFF files loaded onto my Windows PC. Here the two images can be seen side by side at 100% resolution.

Sinde by side comparison at 100% magnification. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.
Sinde by side comparison at 100% magnification. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.

The image on the left is from Affinity whilst the image on the right was converted using Iridient. The Affinity image appears sharper and with better defined detail. It does though suffer a little from my having added too much clarity. The Iridient image appears slightly more natural and softer. For the Iridient image I used the Deconvolution sharpening. If I apply a further round of sharpening using Nik Pro Sharpener (RAW) I can pull more detail from the Iridient image but not from the Affinity image. I suspect the difference in performance between the two is down to my (as yet) lack of experience with Affinity.

Something further that I noticed when doing the tests is that Iridient appears to have automatically corrected for lens geometry whilst Affinity didn’t. Overall, both packages did a great job of converting the RAW file as can be seen below (Affinity is on the left).

Side by side comparison. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.
Side by side comparison. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.

As I mentioned at the start, the results from the Fuji XT1 have impressed me greatly. I’m so pleased I didn’t dump the camera. I can’t wait to test out the XT2.

Friday Image No. 110

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Cornish sunset. Olympus EM5 processed using Nik Viveza.
Cornish sunset. Olympus EM5 processed using Nik Viveza.

This isn’t a deliberate ploy to post the same image as last week. This image was taken at the same time as last week’s Friday image but the lighting is stronger. The reason it looks stronger is that the image is processed using Nik Viveza. When I did this, I employed a few adjustment tricks that people might not realise to try. I decided to share these “Secrets of Viveza” using a video which is posted on my you tube channel. I also embedded the clip below.

I hope you find it useful and have a great weekend.

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New XP-Pen

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Tree in Padley Gorge, Peak District. Fuji XT1 + 10-24 lens.
Tree in Padley Gorge, Peak District. Fuji XT1 + 10-24 lens.

As some of you reading this may know, I have recently switched from a PC to a Mac for Photography. Initially it was a move from a laptop to a MacBook. Next came the move from my desktop PC to an iMac. This last move is probably longer term as I need to retain a Windows PC for businesses reasons.

Having paid a not insignificant sum for the iMac I decided it was time to get serious about my image editing. For years I have used a mouse for most editing tasks but at one time I did buy a cheap Wacom graphics tablet. In reality, the tablet was too small, I didn’t enjoy using it and then I broke it. But now the time is right to grasp the nettle and invest in a larger tablet.

What I really want is a larger graphics tablet that would provide me greater control over detailed work. At the same time this tablet needed to fit on an already overcrowded desk without getting in the way. Something around A4 size would probably be ideal. The tablet also needed to have a number of buttons (virtual or physical) which I could program with useful commands. My other requirements include:

  • A nice surface to move the pen nib across.
  • Functional buttons on the pen/stylus.
  • The pen needed to be of a reasonable size and weight to make drawing comfortable.
  • At least 2000 pressure levels allowing the pressure applied to the pen to be interpreted by my software.
  • A resolution of at least 5000lpi.

I started my search with the Wacom tablets as they are a recognised industry leader with a quality product. Their tablets clearly meet my needs but I needed to pay quite a bit, typically in excess of £200. Bearing in mind my earlier experience I couldn’t quite bring myself to pay this.

I decided to search Amazon which revealed a lot of graphics tablets for less than £100. The one that I really liked was the XP-Pen Star03. It met all of my requirements and was only around £50.

View on Amazon

The XP-Pen Star 3 graphics tablet
The XP-Pen Star 3 graphics tablet

I have to admit to being rather dubious of this low price but in the end thought it was worth the risk. Having now used the tablet for around a month, I like it – a lot. It’s useful for applying more artistic editing to images. Do I use it all the time? No.

Where a graphics tablet like this comes into its own is when you to brush in or out adjustments and this depends on the software you use. The Nik filters for example provide excellent Control Point technology so tend not to need a graphics tablet. In contrast, if you work a lot with Photoshop Layers or products such as On 1 Enhance, the graphics tablet brings real benefits.

If you find yourself looking for a graphics tablet to try, I would definitely take a look at the XP- Pen. It works with both Mac and Windows PC’s.

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Landscape Photography is Frustrating

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Stones at Padley Gorge. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens.
Stones at Padley Gorge. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens.

I mentioned on Friday’s blog post that I was heading out for an early morning shoot the following day. At the time the weather forecast appeared to be little hit or miss. The intention was to shoot Winnats Pass in the Peak District. I was meeting a couple of friends there and to be honest the weather conditions on the drive over had me feeling hopeful. Unfortunately, within 2 miles of my destination I hit a fog bank but I wasn’t to be deterred.

Meeting up we decided to press on as the pass is high and the Hope Valley often fills with fog at this time of year. This can give rise to a cloud inversion where you find yourself looking out across a sea of cloud. The first challenge though was finding our way. I had never been to this location and my friends had only been once before. If you add to this the dark and thick fog, you should be able to guess that we got lost trying to cross a field. Eventually we did find the path and emerged onto the head of the pass. The view that greeted us was dull and foggy.

Rather than share one of my images with you, here’s a link to another photographer’s website. This is what it should have looked like.

http://www.jamespictures.co.uk/ngg_tag/winnats-pass/

If the sun did come up on that morning, we missed it.

Eventually we cut our losses. Regrouping we gathered our thoughts with a cup a tea and cooked breakfast. This is when we decided to try Padley Gorge in the Peaks.  The water and trees might prove quite evocative in the mist. Again, luck was against us as the fog cleared by the time we arrived, leaving us with a dull and overcast sky.

The image you see at the top of the post was taken in the gorge where there’s an old quarry. For those of you who don’t know, the round stones in the image are millstones. The gritstone in the area was perfect for making these and you can find millstones in many locations throughout the Peak District. They are a sort of icon of the area. My intention had been to shoot the image for B&W conversion given it was still too early for autumn colour. Having now seen the colour and B&W together, I do prefer the colour image, I think. Here’s the B&W version in case you’re interested.

Stones at Padley Gorge. B&W conversion.
Stones at Padley Gorge. B&W conversion.

In the end we gave up at around 13:00 and by the time I had driven home (about 50 minutes), the weather was glorious. As I said, landscape photography is frustrating.

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