digital photography

Micro 4/3 or LX5 Infrared

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This image shot on a Sony NEX5 has been converted in software to give the appearance of being shot in infrared

As I mentioned in some of my recent posts I have just been up to Whitby with a friend. These trips are great as we talk about all things photography including quite often the new equipment we would like. It was during one of these discussions that I had to admit I would really like an infrared camera. In the past I might have sought to purchase an old DSLR and have this converted but that wouldn’t fit with my new lightweight approach.

After a lot of consideration and debate I think I have two choices. The first would be to purchase and convert an LX5 whilst the other would be converting a micro 4/3 camera. To be honest, I would love to have an infrared LX5; the lens is excellent and the camera fits in my pocket. What puts me off is that I have heard the LX5 suffers from hot spots under some conditions. I would hate to have an otherwise great image ruined by this so I am loathed to go down this route.

Realistically then it’s probably down to a choice of which micro 4/3 camera to purchase and convert. If I chose the GF1 I would worry about the age of the camera and the cost of the conversion in the UK is about twice the cost of the camera. Alternatively the cost of a new GX1 is now down to £315 after £50 cash back. This seems to be amazing value for money but I still need to find a conversion service that has a good reputation.

Now if you are reading this and wondering why I am not doing my Infrared conversion in software, it’s because it’s very difficult to create a realistic effect without introducing a lot of artefacts around edges in the image. It’s very difficult to get just the right look and to be honest I would rather have a converted camera that I can snap away with.

You will hear more about this in the future as I have convinced myself I need an infrared camera.

Sony NEX5 Sweep Panorama

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This interior of a shopping centre in Milan was shot using the Sweep Panorama of the Sony NEX-5

I have discussed on this blog in the past how I sold my NEX5 because I wasn’t happy with either the range or quality of the lenses. These factors were very important to me so I’m not saying the NEX5 is a bad camera. Quite the opposite in fact and there is one feature in particular that I deeply miss and that is the Sweep Panorama.

This is the ability to shoot a panoramic picture by simply releasing the shutter and moving the camera slowly and smoothly in a given direction. The camera takes images in quick succession and then stitches them into one long panoramic image in camera to produce a final JPG. If you have never used this feature I can assure you it is very addictive and makes shooting panoramic much easier than shooting and stitching multiple images in software. What has suddenly made me nostalgic for this feature was my recent trip to Whitby where my friend was using his new Sony camera and I would regularly hear the tell tale clicking shutter of the sweep panoramic.

With this in mind I decided to review some of my old sweep panoramic images such as the one shown above. Now whilst I am raving about the sweep panoramic there are a few limitations you need to be aware of – at least in the NEX5 at the time I was using it.

Firstly you need to set up the camera with the direction of sweep. Is it left to right, bottom to top or the reverse of one of these? This can take time and sometimes you don’t have the camera ready at just the moment you need it.

Moving subjects can be difficult to capture. Imaging you are standing on a beach and photographing a wave coming in. The wave will have moved slightly between each shot and the stitching usually couldn’t deal with this.

Moving elements in the scene pose a real problem for the Sweep Panorama

Finally there was the problem with stitching fine details which was magnified further when using a wide angle lens. Take a look at the sample below which shows this problem.

The in camera stitching also struggles with fine detail. Take a look at the figures on the wall closely and also the right hand window. None of these quite align properly.

This can of course be overcome with some work in Photoshop however I would rather avoid this and have a finished image where possible.

On a final positive note, the Sweep Panoramic seemed to overcome the problem with soft corners (although this may be due to in camera cropping).

For now then I will still have to lust after the sweep panoramic mode and continue to stitch my images in software.

Taking My Own Advice

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Flowing water and rock shot on a 5D MKII. This isn’t a Light Weight camera

I had an interesting weekend, making a photography trip to Whitby with a friend. Initially we went to shoot the coastal scenery but by 11:30 the sun had become so harsh in the clear blue sky that all attempts at Landscape Photography were thwarted. At this point we sat down, had a coffee and decided to switch our attention to nearby woodland where we knew there was a waterfall.

On arrival we could see the main fall some 80 feet below our path and down an inaccessible cliff. We knew that the falls must be accessible though as we had seen some pictures of it shot from the river. Walking along the path we found a trail that lead down to the river and then a further footpath leading back along the river to the falls. Neither of these paths was easy to walk as the one down to the river was extremely steep and muddy and it took all our efforts to stay upright. The path along the river was even worse, being very deep with mud that came over the top of your boots. Hopping between branches of fallen trees, rocks and tufts of grass was all we could do.

As we made our wall to the falls we came across a large tree that had fallen across the river, blocking it and a steady stream of water was cascading over it. This is the image you see above and it was shot on a Canon 5D MKII. The reason I tell you all this is that despite having my faithful and very light GX1 kit with me I insisted on taking the 5D. I also took a full set of Lee filters, a very large tripod and a large bag filled with all sorts of accessories that I didn’t need.

The result is a nice image but also a hard fall against some rocks as the weight of my bag caused me to slip, overbalance and graze my right hand quite badly. I feel confident I would have avoided this and still have achieved the shot had I left everything behind except for my lightweight kit. I need to listen to my own advice.

The Achilles Heel of the Micro 4/3

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The Ribblehead Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. The images captured on a Panasonic Lumix GX1 with an Olympus 9-18mm lens. The images were merged to create the panoramic in Photoshop and converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Yes you read the title of the blog correctly; there is a weakness with my GX1 and no doubt other Micro 4/3 cameras also. Take a look at the image above to see if you can spot it. I shot this yesterday in the Yorkshire Dales when out photographing waterfalls with a friend. The intention was to visit a few locations starting at Keld which has loads of falls and then work our way south visiting other falls on route. This is one of the best shots of the day with my GX1.

Now the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed this photograph is not of a Waterfall and that’s because of the weakness I mentioned. I simply couldn’t slow the shutter speed sufficiently to emphasise the movement in the images. Let’s discuss an example.

There was quite a lot of water coming over the falls as it has been wet recently (I’m sure those of you based in the UK will know what I mean) so the speed of the water was quite fast. This is good news for me as it means the shutter speeds are not quite as slow as you might otherwise need. I still however needed to slow the camera down to between 0.3 and 0.8 seconds to create the desired effect.

The base ISO on the GX1 is 160 and there is no way (at least that I can find) to expand this down to perhaps 80 or even 50 (I hope Panasonic are listening because I’m sure they could do this with a firmware upgrade). At the same time I want to shoot with my lenses in their optimal range for sharpness of f/5.6 to f/7.1. When trying to do this however I was finding that even in relatively shaded areas I was just freezing the water.

I did try closing my aperture down to f/13.0 with a couple of ND filters on the front of the lens whilst holding a polarizer in front and it worked to some degree. It still wasn’t great and there was a reflection on the polariser that can be seen on some images.

My 5D MKII on the other hand was set to ISO50 with a lens at f/14.0 and a polarizing filter attached. This was giving me nice long exposures that I could control. Here is an example of one of the shots so at least you can see how nice the locations were.

One of the many waterfalls near to Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. This image was captured on my Canon 5D MKII. It is a single RAW file which was processed in Lightroom and then converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

I think therefore that I need to add a further accessory to the list of essentials for this camera and that is a variable ND screw in filter. Oh, and if you are wondering what the image at the top of the blog is, it’s the Ribblehead Viaduct which carries the rail line.

LX5 Dynamic Black and White RAW Problem

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Black and White conversion from an LX5 RAW file. This is the Imperial War Museum in Manchester.

If you are a regular visitor to the Lightweight Photographer site you may be aware that I like to solve people’s photographic problems if I can. One of the problems that seems to crop up with some regularity on Forums is that when shooting with the LX5 using the Dynamic Black and White setting the images come out in colour but the colours look odd. Here is an example below.

Dynamic B&W mode on the LX5 produces RAW files with an odd colour

The answer is relatively straight forward in that the user is shooting in RAW format. As RAW captures the image data but doesn’t apply any processing the images from a colour sensor will be in colour. If you want the Dynamic Black and White appearance for your image then you will need to capture your images in JPG format or at least RAW and JPG.

But why then the odd colour?

Well it helps add punch to the image when it is converted. The approach chosen by Panasonic is to bump the colour temperature up the maximum, shifting it to the warm end of the colour spectrum and reduce the tint settings for the RAW file (-95) so that the image is also shifted towards green. The internal processing of the camera then applies a digital filter and the result is a higher contrast image with greater tonal separation than a straight conversation. Here is the resulting file Dynamic B&W file.

Dynamic B&W setting on the LX5

Don’t however be lazy; lightweight yes but never lazy. Processing your colour images into Black and White will give you much greater creative control. The example at the top of the page was a conversion using Nik SilverEfex Pro 2 and took me around 3 minutes. I think that’s a good investment of my time.

ND Grad Filter or Multiple Exposure

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A typical high contrast scene where I needed to use a ND grad filter . The filter also helped to emphasise the beams of light coming through the cloud. I could have used multiple exposures but I was on a fast moving boat at the time which could have made post processing difficult.

Here’s a query that I see with some regularity so I thought it would make a good blog topic. When photographing landscapes the sky is often lighter than the ground and this can cause the land to be either too dark in the final image or the sky is too light. Two common approaches to solve this problem are the Neutral Density graduated (ND Grad) filter and multiple exposures. Which do I recommend?

ND grads are filters that fit to the end of the camera lens and which are dark on one half and clear on the other. The dark part is placed on the lens to darken bright areas such as the sky, so balancing the exposure with the land. This results in a nicely exposed sky and ground, leading to a more pleasing image. I should say that if you want to know more about purchasing these filters, there is a full tutorial on my Lenscraft website at http://www.lenscraft.co.uk/training/160.html.

The approach with multiple exposures is to take as the name suggest multiple images, all identical except that the exposure changes. Typically this involves bracketing the exposure by say 1 stop above and below the correct exposure. The resulting images are then blended together in an image editor to achieve a final image with a balanced exposure. Alternatively you might choose to blend the images together using some form of HDR software.

Before saying which method I prefer I should make it clear that neither approach is perfect and both have advantages and disadvantages. Because of this I actually use both approaches from time to time although I do prefer one over the other.

The problems I see with the ND Grad filter are:

  • The graduate filters can be a little clumsy to use as you really need a holder and lens adapter to attach them to the camera. They actually add quite a bit of size to the camera, sometimes quite dramatically.
  • The filters are prone to scratching as they are usually made of optical plastic. If you buy the glass ones they are prone to cracking or breaking, which given their price makes you want to cry.
  • Although these filters should be neutral they often display a colour cast which is sometimes linked to the lighting and weather conditions. This can result in odd coloured skies even when the filters are neutral.
  • They can sometimes be difficult to line up so that their effect isn’t obvious. This isn’t so much of a problem with micro 43 cameras which have a small sensor.
  • The areas of light and dark don’t always line up in a straight line e.g. a tree cuts into the sky and ends up becoming darker because the filter cuts across it.

The Multiple Exposure method also has its difficulties:

  • The exposures really need to be identical for the best results. This often forces the use of a tripod.
  • You need to ensure you don’t change the lens focal length or point of focus between shots.
  • The longer exposure shot in the bracket sequence can sometimes be soft due to camera shake. Another reason to use a tripod.
  • When using a lightweight camera I don’t like to carry a tripod unless I have to.
  • Blending takes time and photo editing skills. Often I just can’t be bothered with all the extra work.

On balance and because I come from a film background where I used to shoot slide film, ND Grads are my preferred option. I will however shoot multiple exposures if the situation needs it and I feel the benefits of doing so will outweigh the additional processing time. Overall I would say both methods work and it’s a personal choice you feel happiest with.

How Much Depth of Field with the LX5

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New York skyline at night. Shot hand held with an LX5 compact camera using ISO200 and f/2.8.

I recently posted an article discussing how micro 4/3 cameras could achieve good depth of field at relatively wide apertures. This also stressed how the common advice to stop down the lens to a small aperture was misleading and probably resulted in poor lens performance and loss of image sharpness. Well, now it’s the turn of the LX5.

The LX5 is a compact camera with an oversized sensor and a great Leica lens that’s the equivalent of a 24-90mm lens on a full frame camera. Despite its oversized sensor, this is still much smaller than the Micro 4/3 cameras, which gives the LX5 a much greater depth of field at the same aperture.

I can only describe the lens on the LX5 as extraordinary in terms of sharpness and its ability to resolve detail, even in distant subjects. It has an aperture of f/2.0 at its widest to f/8.0 at the smallest. The f/2.0 can only be achieved with the lens set to the equivalent of 24mm. At the other end of the zoom range the widest aperture is f/3.5.

From my observations when using the LX5, the camera produces good images at any aperture and is certainly usable wide open (f/2.0). If I stop the lens down it start to hit its sweet spot by f/2.8 and performance begins to drop off after f/4.5. The question then, is how much depth of field do you get with f/2.8 and the lens set to 24mm (I am assuming here that you like I spend most of your time photographing landscapes)

To answer this question I am not going to resort to a depth of field phone app as I did before, but use a feature built into the LX5 which not only shows me the depth of field but allows me to set the hyperfocal distance. In case you’re not familiar with the term hyperfocal distance, this is the theoretical focus point that gives the maximum depth of field for your aperture/lens right the way to infinity. Here are the steps:

  1. Select the Aperture Priority mode (A) on the top dial of the camera.
  2. Switch the camera to manual focus using the switch on the side of the lens. When you are in Manual Focus, MF will appear in the bottom right of the screen.
  3. Press the rear adjustment dial on the back of the camera (top right) until the MF is highlighted. This is the dial that allows you to adjust the aperture and if you keep pressing it in you will cycle through aperture adjustment, exposure compensation and manual focus settings.
  4. Rotate the dial to the left and right. As you do this you will see a depth of field guide appear on the bottom of the camera screen with a solid yellow line that moves left and right. This line represents the zone of focus at the aperture and focus length selected.
  5. Move the dial left and right until the yellow line just touches infinite focus on the right hand side. You have now set the focus to give the maximum depth of field at your aperture and focal length.

To give you some idea of how much depth of field you can achieve at 24mm and f/2.8, you will find the closest point in focus is just over a meter away and the zone of sharp focus extends to infinity. Now the other benefit of shooting at f/2.8 is that you will achieve a very fast shutter speed and can hand hold even in poor light as well as reduce the risk of camera shake.

By way of an example, the night shot above was taken from the top of the Empire State Building hand held using ISO200 and f/2.8. Its pin sharp and prints beautifully at A3+. I have even passed it off at various presentations around the UK as being shot with a 5D MKII. I do always own up later as its great fun to see people’s faces when they realise it was shot with a compact camera.