Digital Photography

Lenscraft is Back

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The Lenscraft site is now back up and running with the performance issues fixed. We have needed to revert to a backup so it’s possible a couple of people who registered just prior to the problem may need to register again (although I think I have everyone).

Apologies for inconvenience caused.

Robin

The Joys of Running a Website

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The Lenscraft website is temporarily down. Yesterday it was running extremely slow due to what appeared to be external influences. I won’t go into the technicalities of what happened next other than to say the site has been destroyed. I’m working with the hosting company to restore one of the backups and prevent any further attacks.

My apologies for any inconvenience.

Robin

Return of the RX10

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La Rochelle, France. This is a 5 image sequence shot on the Sony RX10 and stitched in Lightroom. ISO80, f/5.6, 1/640″. Click the image to view a larger version of the file.

I previously commented on how my beloved RX10 was struck down by mould. This was on the front element of the lens and was inside a (supposedly) sealed unit. Rather than taking this to Sony for a repair I went to The Real Camera Company in Manchester. One of their engineers has now replaced the affected unit and the camera is back with me in a little over a week from my authorising the repair.

Whilst the camera has been away for repair it felt like I had lost something quite major. I had been used to taking the RX10 out on hikes across the moors where I live. The alternative was to take the Fuji X-T2 or Olympus EM5, both of which produce higher quality images than the RX10. Despite this, the inconvenience of never having the right lens on the camera at the point you want to use it, or needing to change lenses and filters frequently in the field was what can only be described as a pain in the butt.

The RX10 produces excellent detail and sharpness in the central area of the frame, but it softens near the edges and distorts a little in the corners (at the wide-angle end of the lens range). I suspect much of this is due to a lot of lens correction being applied in software. Despite this, the camera is a joy to use and produces images which have a lovely feel to them. The convenience of having a 24-200 focal length in a constant f2.8 lens, all bolted onto a 1” sensor is a great combination, especially when out walking.

So far, I have only taken a few test shots in the garden to check the camera functions correctly (it does.) I’m really looking forward to some good weather to put the RX10 through its paces. I would also like to say well done to The Real Camera company for their help and a job well done.

My Move To Apple

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Cerro Torre Glacier, Patagonia, Argentine. I may not show old images such as this one very often, but I certainly don't want to lose my access to them.
Cerro Torre Glacier, Patagonia, Argentine. I may not show old images such as this one very often, but I certainly don’t want to lose my access to them.

A few months back, I blogged about how I was switching from Microsoft to Apple. At the time, I purchased a MacBook Pro and was so impressed I went on to purchase a Mac desktop. It’s now been quite a few months and I can report I am more impressed with the MacBook than when I first bought it. It’s been stable and the start-up time is so fast, it’s probably paid for itself already.

As for the desktop, I really like it but I find the high-resolution screen has given me a couple of problems:

  1. The high resolution makes everything look good as well as very sharp. It seems to hide problems that would otherwise be identified when viewing on my PC. There has been occasion where I have finished editing an image, only to move it to my PC (which has a 1080 HD resolution) and find it’s not actually sharp.
  2. If I record a screencast or edit video on the Mac, its ends up being 10 – 20 times the size of a recording on the PC. This makes the file sizes too large to upload over traditional broadband (I can’t get fibre where I live).

I’m sure there are ways around these if I search hard enough, but I don’t yet have time.

One other problem I came across (and fixed) is when I plugged my Drobo into the Mac. Currently I have two Drobo units which store my back catalogue of images; literally hundreds of thousands of files. When I tried to access the images from the Mac, I found I could only read them and that I wasn’t able to write any changes or new images back to the storage.

After some research, I found this is because the disks were formatted by my PC to use NTFS storage. The only way I could change this is by formatting the drives in the Drobo and starting again. That may sound simple until you realise there are several terabytes of images involved and where can you put them whilst you do the work. Even just trying to copy the data could take weeks.

Eventually I found a great piece of software from Paragon Software called NTFS for Mac. Once installed this will allow you to read and write to NTFS disks. It works seamlessly in the background and you don’t even realise it’s there. I think it cost me around £12 for a license but checking just now the price is £16.99.

If you move to a Mac and you have images on large external drives, you will probably run into this problem. NTFS for Mac is a very neat, cost effective solution.

New Fuji Lens and a Warning

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Misty morning in the trees at the Roaches. Fuji XT2 + 16-55 lens.
Misty morning in the trees at the Roaches. Fuji XT2 + 16-55 lens.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you may well be aware of the problems I have experienced with my Fuji 55-200mm lens. Following some rather odd results, the lens was returned to Fuji back in November who couldn’t find any problems. Wex then returned it for a second time following a review of some test images as they agreed, there must be a fault.

The lens is still being inspected by Fuji but Wex have kindly allowed me to trade it in against another lens. This is a huge help as being without a good telephoto lens means I can’t use the Fuji kit properly and always end up taking a second camera with me. Thanks to the trade in I now have the Fuji 50-140 f/2.8 + 1.4x Teleconverter and this weekend was my first outing.

Unfortunately, the location we chose was very foggy and remained so for most of the day. The fog did lift to a certain level but generally it was too dense to use the new lens properly. I did however manage a few test shots of distant rocks which a group of climbers were scaling. I mounter the camera on my tripod and lined up the shot using both the lens and teleconverter. The conditions were still with no wind and I was using a cable release.

To my horror, when I zoomed in to check the image I could see a lot of camera shake and the image was blurred. I tried again and again but I couldn’t remove the shake. I then tried removing the teleconverter to see if it was the cause of the problem but it wasn’t. The results looked very much like those I experienced with the lens I had returned.

Below you can see one of the problem images. Notice how the shake isn’t consistent across the frame and some areas almost come into focus but don’t quite get there.

Example of problem image.
Example of problem image.

And a section at 100% magnification.

Section of poor image at 100% magnification
Section of poor image at 100% magnification

Then through trial and error I worked out the cause of the issue.  Take a look at the image below which was shot immediately after the image above. This time the image is pin sharp across the frame.

Good image
Good image

And again, a section of the image at 100% magnification.

Section of good image at 100% magnification.
Section of good image at 100% magnification.

The cause of the issue was the Lee 0.3 ND grad filter I was using. With the filter on the lens, the images were out of focus and appeared shaky. With the filter removed the images were crisp and sharp. I could repeat the result time and again with all my Lee filters.

What appears to be happening is that the filter is causing a problem for the autofocus mechanism in the XT2 and it continues to refocus as the shot is being taken. Later I turned off the autofocus and could focus manual to capture a pin sharp image. If I set the camera back to autofocus the problem occurred again. What I haven’t been able to work out is why I have only seen the issue with the telephoto lenses. My other lenses (10-24, 16-55 and 18-55) all work fine with my filters.

This is one to watch out for if you are a landscaper and use filters. I was also wondering if anyone else has experienced a similar issue?

New Book & Course Launch

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The Photographers Guide to Image Sharpening in Lightroom

It’s been a very busy weekend with the launch of my latest book “The Photographers Guide to Image Sharpening in Lightroom”. Although this is now my seventeenth book, each one brings a new set of challenges.

With this book, I wanted to include free access to a companion Video course I developed. I love books but I see video fast becoming an essential element of the learning process; this is why I recently established Lenscraft Training.

At present, there are only two courses available (but many more planned):

  • “Secrets of the Darkroom Masters” available free to anyone who registers.
  • “Sharpening Photos with Adobe Lightroom” available for US $20, but Lenscraft Members can currently use a 75% discount code.

You can find the book on Amazon for US $5.99/£4.99 or similar in other countries (allowing for variations in tax and exchange rates). I will continue to operate my Magazine Pricing Policy where I price my books on a par with popular photography magazines.

The books aimed at people who already know how to use the basics of the Lightroom Develop module but who want to achieve the highest quality results when Sharpening and applying Noise Reduction. It presents the three-stage sharpening methodology on which Lightroom is based, as well explaining how to use the various tools. There is plenty of advice on how to achieve the best results, together with full length worked examples you can follow. Supporting RAW files and sharpened example images are provided on my Lenscraft site. Inside the book, you will find a 100% discount code for the sharpening video course mentioned above.

If you’re interested in the book, here are the links to the UK and US amazon stores. For other Amazon sites, please search for “The Photographers Guide to Image Sharpening in Lightroom”.

View on UK Amazon

View on US Amazon

If you would like to visit the new training site here is the link

http://training.lenscraft.co.uk/

If you don’t have a Kindle device, you can download a free Kindle Reader from Amazon using the link below. The reader is available for different popular platforms including Mac, Windows and Android computers, tablets and phones.

Link to Kindle Reader

Note on Sharpening XTrans RAW Files

I have been asked if the new book examines the “special” treatment needed when sharpening Fuji XTrans RAW files. The short answer is no. My intention is to share some of my recent findings and recommendations via my You Tube Channel. I just need to clarify some points before publishing these.

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Bracketing Limitation Workaround

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Fuji XT2 six image HDR
Fuji XT2. Six images at 1 stop intervals blended using HDR processing in Lightroom. The image sequence was shot using the technique discussed.

From time to time I like to shoot multiple sequences of images at different exposures. I then blend these either with HDR software or using luminosity masks in Photoshop. My Olympus EM5 makes this very easy. I call up the bracketing option in the menu, set it to the number of exposures I want and the interval. I also set the shooting mode to continuous which allows me to shoot a sequence by holding down the shooter button. When the sequence is complete there is a slight pause allowing me to release the button. This makes the entire process very easy, allowing me to hand hold.

At the weekend, I came to shoot a bracketed sequence using the Fuji XT2. This also makes shooting the bracketed sequence very easy. There is a dial switch allowing you to change from single shot to bracket. You press the shutter button once and the sequence of three images is captured with no need to keep your finger on the shutter. I found this great, until the scene I wanted to shoot required a five-image sequence at 1 stop intervals. That’s when I found out that the XT2 is limited to shooting only 3 images in a bracket. Come on Fuji, please fix this in your next firmware update. It’s basic stuff.

Now, I should stress that it’s not just Fuji that seem to have overlooked the obvious. When I also came to set up my Sony A7r at the weekend, I found a similar problem. This camera can be set to shoot a bracket sequence of 5 images, providing you don’t want to set the exposure intervals to more than 0.7EV. As soon as you set the exposure interval for a bracket to 1EV or more, you can only shoot a 3 shot sequence. What on earth are they thinking.

If you have been frustrated by this limitation with your camera, there is a simple workaround (other than changing your camera):

  • Set your camera to bracket 3 shots at 2EV intervals in the Av mode (aperture priority) and set your exposure compensation to 0.
  • Shoot the bracket sequence of 3 images.
  • Set the exposure compensation to +1.
  • Shoot a second bracket sequence of 3 images.

This gives you two sequences of three images, but across the two you will have images at 1EV intervals. These will range from -2EV to +3 EV which is what you need for HDR and Luminance blending if you want to ensure maximum flexibility. Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to hand hold using this method but hopefully it will make things a little easier.

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