Yesterday I published a new video on my You Tube Channel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many of you reading this will be aware of my move to a Fuji XT1 and the concerns I had regarding the image quality. Now to be clear, it wasn’t that the image quality was bad but rather under certain circumstances fine detail was lost during the RAW conversion in Lightroom. Sometimes foliage would have an unusual appearance that was almost false.
In the following screenshot you can see a section of the above image at 100% magnification (you may need to double click the image to view it at full resolution). Whilst this isn’t a severe problem I don’t care for the detail in the image foliage as much as I do the results of other RAW processors I have now found.
Since encountering this I have been experimenting with a number of RAW converters including RAW Therapee and Iridient. I am very impressed with both of these as RAW converters but they lack some of the tools of Lightroom and/or are a little trickier to use. RAW Therapee for example has a very large selection of tools in an interface that’s hard to grasp initially.
In the following image you can see the same image processed with Iridient, also at 100% magnification. Although lacking in midtone contrast, the image is more natural in appearance and there is greater detail in the foliage.
And here is the RAW Therapee conversion at 100%.
Again, this has more detail and is sharper than the Adobe version but also looks more natural. I also prefer it to the Iridient version if I’m honest.
I have now come across another RAW converter that clearly has parallels with Lightroom, even offering some of the same functionality. Although it’s not as easy to use or quite as well designed as Lightroom, it does seem to produce images with excellent levels of detail and sharpness. This is also true when processing XTrans RAW files and so may be another alternative for people who want an alternative to Adobe. Best of all the software is Free and the enthusiasts behind this project are to be commended. The only potential downside is that it’s not available on the Windows platform but if you use a Mac, you really should take a look at the software.
Here is a section of the image at 100% (I apologise for not matching the colour and contrast but I haven’t yet mastered the processing).
The name of the software is Darktable.
In my most recent blog posting I shared my thoughts about the Fuji XT1 and at the end, mentioned my intention to upgrade to the XT2 once available in the UK. Following this a few people contacted me to ask if I had considered the XPro2 and in one case, someone offered to share with me sample RAW files from their XPro2.
To answer the question, have I considered the XPro2, the answer is yes I have. Personally I find the camera body a little wide and I don’t like the handling anywhere near as much as the XT1. I’m therefore prepared to wait until I can get the XT2. I don’t need to urgently change my camera and getting something that I can love and work with for a number of years is much more important to me than just changing the camera to improve the technical spec.
Now for the interesting part and for which I have to thank Nick Harvey-Phillips for sharing some RAW files from the XPro2. All the images on this page are provided by Nick as test sample and he retains copyright. The reason XPro2 RAW files are helpful is that the same sensor is being used in the XT2.
The first thing I noticed on opening the image below is the very high image quality.
In the next shot you can see a section of the train at 100% magnification.
This is a 25Mpixel sensor giving a large image at 6,000 x 4,000 pixels. The images appear to be very well defined and sharp. The detail in the objects is very sharp but then it always was in the XT1 which uses the previous generation of the sensor with a lower 16Mpixel count. Clearly, Fuji has been able to maintain the good performance here so let’s take a look at the problem area of fine detail in grass and foliage, which often gives rise to a water colour effect.
As I have mentioned previously the water colour effect tends to be more obvious on screens where there is a lower pixel density. For this reason, I am doing the assessment on a 24” screen which is 1920 x 1080 pixels. When I look at the images on the 27” Mac running a 5K display I see perfection.
The other factor which seems to cause or emphasise the water colour effect is the RAW converter. Here Adobe converters seem to have problems so I used the latest version of Lightroom (CC 15.7). When I review the images in Lightroom at 100% I see a much better result than I expected. The “false” water colour effect/pattern is largely gone and you need to look extremely closely into small areas to find any trace of this.
This is the full image with only modest adjustment to the exposure, contrast and sharpening for the purposes of the comparison. In the next shot below you can see a section of the image magnified to 100% with an area of the grass which exhibits traces of the water colour effect. In all honesty, if you didn’t know what you were looking for I think you would miss it.
To provide a comparison I processed the image using the Iridient RAW converter. Here the “false” effect isn’t really detected (although I did over-sharpen the image for the lower resolution monitor). The image is also lacking some of the mid tone contrast present in the Lightroom conversion.
Overall, the images coming out of the new sensor are excellent. They actually reminded me a little of the RAW file images from the Olympus EM5 except they are much larger and more flexible.
Now, when you compare the images from Lightroom and Iridient side by side, you can still see the Iridient images have more fine detail and Lightroom version is a little soft.
For the Lightroom images I used the settings
Amount = 36
Radius = 0.6
Detail = 57
Threshold = 10
I also had the Colour and Luminance noise reduction set to 0.
I recalled though that one of the comments from the “Fuji RAW Conversion Challenge” I issued said that you needed Deconvolution sharpening to bring out the best in the XTrans sensor. I therefore thought that I would apply a second pass of sharpening to the Lightroom file using Nik Sharpener Pro RAW sharpener (available free from Google). What a difference.
The results now match those from Iridient in many areas of the image. Attempting the same with the Iridient file didn’t produce much of an improvement. Next step is to try this experiment with some of the XT1 file I have.
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.
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”.
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.
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.