All posts by thelightweightphotographer

I am a Landscape Photographer based in the North West of England. Unlike most photographers I believe smaller and lighter is better when it comes to cameras and equipment.

New Lightweight Tool

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Lightweight Photography is not just about using lightweight cameras, sometimes it’s about using streamlined processes to make life easier or about tools that can fulfil more than one function and so lighten your load. I have just made one such purchase and I want to share my experience with you. The tool in question is the “ColorMunki Photo” which I’m sure many of you will know about and perhaps a few of you own this.

The ColorMunki provides a simple and fast way to profile your monitor so you can be sure the colours in your images are being accurately represented on the screen. It also allows you to profile your printer (the main reason for my purchase) as well as profiling cameras and LCD projectors. The later will come in useful where I give presentations to camera clubs and often run into issues with my images projecting too dark.

My previous approach to colour management was to use the” i-One” monitor profiler from X-Rite (who also make the ColorMunki). In comparison to the ColorMunki the “i-One” takes much longer to complete the profile and isn’t as user friendly. For printer profiles I tended to use either custom made profiles purchasing from a remote profiling service or sometimes made my own using VueScan and a desktop scanner. The first option is time consuming as you need to rely on the postal service whilst the second option wasn’t really reliable. Since I switched to using a Canon Pixma 9500MkII I have struggled to generate good profiles and if I’m truthful, gave up.

My experience of the ColorMunki is that it performs the two functions above (monitor and printer profiling) brilliantly. It’s very fast, easy to use and the results are fantastic. My printer seems to be using less ink but more importantly the results seem to be much more vivid. Prints I had previously thought were good seem to have just come to life with the new printer profiles I have generated. The profiles also seem much better than the generic profiles you can usually download from paper manufacturer sites.  To say I am delighted is an understatement and I wanted to share this positive experience with everyone.

Two Heads are Better than One

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I had an interesting weekend in terms of photography. I didn’t take a single image but I did improve my work and made some substantial breakthroughs. What gave raise to this? Well one of my friends came over and we spent time reviewing our work and suggesting improvements.  This was great in terms of development but it also allowed me to discuss some frustrating aspects of micro 4/3 photography with a second person. The most frustrating of these is the colour produced by my Panasonic cameras when converting RAW files.

You see I have long thought that the RAW files from my LX5, GF1 and now GX1 produce colours that don’t seem entirely natural. Greens, reds and blues all seem too strong and saturated. It is however difficult to judge on your own so yesterday was a great opportunity to discuss this with a very knowledgeable photographer whose views I trust. The result was that we agreed the colours were off. Whilst the image at the top is a black and white conversion I am showing the original colour image here together with a colour adjusted version we created.

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The original colour image with the defauilt RAW settings is shown above

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Here is the corrected image. Notice the orange of the cylinder on the right. In the uncorrected image this is a false orange and is also over saturated. Also notice the red plastic can on the left. In the original this looks raspberry and is too saturated.

To create the colour adjusted image we needed to:

  • Increase the colour temperature by 300K
  • Shift the Orange Hue and reduce its saturation
  • Reduce the saturation of blue in the scene

These are subtle adjustments but they are enough for your brain to pick up that something isn’t quite right.

The reason for these odd colours is not however down to Panasonic but the Adobe software I am using to convert the RAW files. It’s the calibration Adobe bundles with their colour engine that is causing the issue. I have therefore taken the step of purchasing a colour passport checker to use with my Panasonic cameras in future. I hope this will allow me to correct the problem and will report again in the future.

Holding Steady

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I have a number of lenses that I use with my Panasonic GX1:

  • Olympus 9-18mm
  • Panasonic 14-45mm
  • Panasonic 45-200mm
  • Panasonic 20mm
  • Olympus 45mm (a recent addition and a stunning lens)

When you look at scientific test results to understand which is the sharpest lens, the 20mm stands out as being in a class of its own. I should say that the 45mm is probably in a similar class but I haven’t seen any data on this.

The question I have then is why the images shot with the 20mm lens don’t appear quite as sharp as the 18-45mm lens which was actually a kit lens from my GF1.

A little bit of experimentation allowed me to identify that I wasn’t quite holding the camera steady enough when shooting with the 20mm lens. The lens is incredibly sharp and able to resolve a huge amount of detail. Unfortunately it also reveals the slightest movement leading to the image appearing not quite as sharp as I expected. There isn’t however sufficient movement to detect this as blur.

There is an old rule of thumb in Photography to say the slowest shutter speed you should use is the inverse of a lenses focal length. If the lens is a 20mm (effectively a 40mm) then 1/40 second is the slowest shutter speed that should be used hand held. What I was finding with this lens is that I really needed to use a shutter speed twice as fast as this (1/80 second) to be sure of having a steady, really sharp image.

I suspect the reason for my 18-45 appearing sharper is that it has an Image Stabiliser (unlike the Olympus cameras that have these built into the camera). If I switched this off it reveals a similar performance problem.

This was helpful but not quite the full story. I also found out that I was stopping the lens down a little too far. The 20mm lens appears to hit its sharpest level as around f/4.0. When I looked at some of the landscape scenes I was shooting I realised that f/4.0 was more than sufficient given I was typically focussing on a point that the camera often considered to be infinity. A greater depth of field from a smaller aperture would not therefore give me any sharper results. An f/4.0 aperture would however give me a faster shutter speed and keep me in the area where the sharpest results could be achieved.

It’s interesting how we get “locked in” to using our equipment in certain ways that might not give the best performance.

My Top 5 Reasons to go Micro 4/3

Panasonic GX1 14-45mm
Copyright 2012 Robin Whalley

I have done a number of camera club presentations recently and it’s very clear there are a lot of people who really get the concept of Lightweight Photography. I have to say that it’s usually the women who appreciate this most and appear much more accepting of this new approach. Many of the men seem to be stuck in the paradigm of using an SLR for ultimate quality (sorry chaps, but you need to wake up and smell the coffee).

Much of the resistance to the idea of using lightweight equipment is that the quality isn’t there but this is a myth. I easily dispel this by showing some of the prints I have made from Micro 4/3 cameras and asking people to comment. Somehow people seem to equate heavier SLR cameras with quality and distrust anything that is lightweight, even when the evidence is in front of their eyes.

I thought therefore that I would share my top 5 reasons for using Micro 4/3 cameras:

  1. Size – these cameras are much smaller than SLR’s and consequently much more portable. It’s easy to hold and shoot with such a camera only inches from the ground or high above your head. It’s easier to experiment and be creative with these in comparison to using an SLR. Interestingly small also equates to less of a threat in the minds of the public. People tend to ignore me when shooting with a small camera but point an SLR in their direction and they react – something you don’t want.
  2. Weight – these cameras are much easier to carry around so you are more likely to take them places and more importantly use them. It also makes them much less tiring to use which should be reflected in better and more enjoyable photography.
  3. Depth of field – because the sensor size is half that of a full frame camera, the depth of field that can be achieved is greater. Try it out and you will be amazed by how wide the aperture can be and still allow you to achieve a full depth of field in your image. I now regularly shoot at between f/5.6 and f/7.1 and seldom need to stop down beyond f/11.
  4. Quality of image – this is related to the previous point. Not needing to stop the aperture right down helps me avoid diffraction which can lead to soft images. Having a wide aperture keeps lots of light entering the lens, the shutter speed fast and the aperture within the area of best performance. Also it allows me to shoot handheld and still keep the ISO low. All these points add up to great quality in the final image.
  5. Price – I am sure this will change as there is a shift to these cameras, but the cost is generally lower than equivalent SLR kit. At the time of writing I can by a 16Mpixel GX1 for less than £400 which is about the same as an entry level SLR. For around £150 I can buy a 14-45mm lens which is superbly sharp. Then there is the 45mm Olympus prime which is under £300; to get anything like this for the Canon 5D would cost 3 times as much if not more.

There are other benefits to the Micro 4/3 camera but to stop you from dumping all your gear on eBay right now I will stop there. If however you have your own reasons for loving Micro 4/3 that I haven’t covered, why not add a comment to share this.

Creative Freedom in Photography

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Recently I have read quite a few articles by professional photographers who have been using lightweight cameras in their work. Cameras that were once dismissed as “toys” are now being accepted, even embraced by top professionals. I read one article where the photographer (I wish I could remember his name) had finished a shoot using their top of the range Hassleblad with digital back and instead of packing up, pulled out a GF1 with 20mm lens. He then proceeded to shoot a series of un-choreographed portraits of the models. The results he says were some of the best images of the shoot. This seems to be a pattern that is repeating itself across photography.

So what can we learn from the above example? Well, the photographer said they felt a sense of creative freedom from using this camera. Odd? Perhaps not.

Lightweight cameras and equipment give you freedom to move around and engage with your subject much more intimately. If your subject is a person, the lightweight camera creates a much smaller physical barrier between the subject and the photographer. Look back to the 70’s and you will find that many press photographers also carried small high quality compacts with fast lenses, loaded with fast film such as ISO800 (fast at the time). This gave them the freedom to shoot in unusual circumstances where an SLR couldn’t be used.

Somehow, somewhere, many of us have forgotten the benefits of small, lightweight, quality cameras. Perhaps it’s because the equipment just hasn’t been up to the task until recently with the move to digital. Perhaps we have been “brainwashed” by the big equipment manufacturers who had nothing to offer us except ever larger, more complex SLR’s.

There is one further lesson I would like to draw from this story and that is the value of having a personal project. The photographer clearly knew he wanted to shoot these images. We don’t know if he had a personal project but I suspect he did; most professionals do. When you have a personal project (or two) on the go you will find the world opens up opportunities to you. If you don’t, your photography will flounder.

Why this image? It’s from one of my projects exploring surveillance cameras in the city.

Out for a Walk

Whilst I love photography, one of my other passions is hill walking. I can’t think of anything better than being out in the mountains with the exception of being out in the mountains with a camera. And that’s where I was at weekend, up in the mountains of the Lake District. Unfortunately I didn’t get too many pictures as for most of my walk the visibility was less than 10m – thank goodness for my map, compass and GPS.

At the moment I am trying to put in some serious miles as I have an Alpine trek coming up where I am trekking from Monte Blanc to the Matterhorn at altitude. The other Saturday was therefore spent completing a 20Km walk around the Newlands Horseshoe taking in Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head and Hindscarth and extended by including Catbells. Despite only being 20Km it was quite demanding with a good amount of ascent and decent so the day stretched out to 8 hours (not helped by the thick fog reducing visibility to less than 10m).

As I said above I can think of nothing better than taking pictures on these treks so I took my lightweight kit with me which consists of a Panasonic GX1, 9-18mm Olympus lens, 14-45mm Panasonic lens and 45-200mm Panasonic lens. Reducing my equipment down to this level makes my backpack much lighter and the walking much more enjoyable. There is also a further benefit of this lightweight equipment that I wanted to highlight and that is the carrying of the camera itself.

I tend to like my camera hung around my neck as I walk or sometimes slung around my neck. Over the years this has actually caused me a lot of neck problems and I know of a lot of others who also suffer because of this. The lightweight camera gear I now use is much more acceptable to carry in this “always ready” way and I now notice how much better my neck and back feel the day after a walk.

So my plea is to those of you who are reading this and are young enough to think this problem will not affect you. I want to tell you that it will, it’s just a matter of time. I therefore want to save you time, pain and money spent on Physiotherapy bills and say don’t carry your camera around your neck unless it’s lightweight. Even then, invest in a longer strap and carry the camera around the neck, with one arm through the strap so the strap comes across your body. I would hate to think you read this in 20 years time and think ah yes, he was right.

Noise Reduction Update

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A few posts back I mentioned a new noise reduction program I had been using with my GX1 images. The program was Topaz DeNoise and I had a 30 day free trial. Well I’m happy to give an update and I will start by saying I purchased the full edition.

After the blog I got down to the serious business of trying out quite a few noise reduction products. These ranged from OK to quite good but DeNoise was the best for my needs. I must admit that if I was judging this purely on how effectively some of the products removed noise, there were a couple of programs that seemed to match the performance. Unfortunately these were devilishly complicated to use.

The problem most of the programs seemed to suffer is that they had too many tabs and sliders to be adjusted. First I would need to select the range of noise e.g. high frequency, medium frequency etc then I would select the level of reduction for both luminance and colour noise. In addition to this I could target tones (highlights, mid tone and shadows) as well as different colours. Often there were a number of other controls I also needed to play with. These solutions to me are not lightweight and usually left me wondering if I had made the best selection I could. I also wasted a lot of time cycling through all the options trying to perfect the noise reduction.

What I really like about DeNoise is that it’s very quick to use as well as being very effective. Firstly I set the level of noise reduction whilst viewing a mid-tone area of the image. I then look at a shadow area and use a shadow slider to increase or decrease the level of noise reduction in these areas. Next I check the highlights and use the highlights slider to make any further adjustment.

Once I am happy with the noise in these areas I can apply additional colour cleaning noise with another slider as well as using two more adjustment sliders to affect the red or blue channel. What’s great about these sliders is that they all work together. The first slider is enough to achieve good results but the other sliders allow you to fine tune and target the effect.

Once you have applied your noise reduction you might find you have impacted some of the very fine detail. To counter this there is a “Recover Detail” slider which is quite effective. There is also a De-Blur slider which I never fail to be impressed by. This is something that I first came across in the Topaz Detail plug-in and it reduces typical lens blur introduced by camera optics and anti-alias filter. Even with top quality optics and perfect technique, this slider can make a difference. There are a few other sliders to help you really get superb results but this blog was not intended as a product review.

This is a very impressive package that it incredibly easy to use and achieve superb results. Even shooting at the best ISO possible with my cameras, this plug-in will improve the results. Give it a try if you want a lightweight noise reduction workflow that is totally effective.