digital photography

Making Large LX5 Prints Again

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This isn’t an image I have chosen to print large but it does help me appreciate how great the LX5 is. You should be able to make out a post on the horizon. If I zoom in to 200% on my monitor with the full resolution image I can make out a series of white depth marks on the post. The ability to resolve this much detail is simply amazing for such a small camera. By the way, the light rays are real.

It’s not often that I have free time these days but this weekend was different. My wife had gone to a knitting exhibition over in Harrogate with her sister and I found myself with a free afternoon. On the rare occasions when this happens and I don’t have any photography organised I like to experiment with photography software and image processing. This weekend was no exception and I decided I wanted to produce some large LX5 prints.

My target was to produce a 30” inch print which would stand close scrutiny.  Whilst a print of this size needs to have some distance between the image and the viewer to be appreciated, I also want to feel happy that if someone (probably me) sticks their nose up to the print, that it would still appear detailed and sharp. The image I went to work on was this picture of Brooklyn Bridge (shown below) that I shot last March on my LX5 whilst visiting New York.

LX5 image of the Brooklyn Bridge which I selected for printing at 30″ x 20″

When we prepare an image we usually think about our vision and how we can create this using either the camera or image manipulations such as dodging and burning. But if you are intending to print large you also need to evaluate the image to find and correct weaknesses that will become apparent in a larger print. The main areas of concern are noise, sharpness and detail.

The detail element of the image really needs to be addressed first during image capture. The best way to do this is to use good lenses, shoot in RAW and then expose to the right on the histogram (overexpose the image slightly). This moves a lot of areas out of the shadows and helps open them up to increase detail. Also the way image sensors work, a lot more information is captured in the darker areas with a lot less noise present. The result is a more detailed image which is sharper in the darker areas. The over exposure is then corrected when the RAW file is converted. As I always shoot in this way I had a good starting RAW file.

My next step was to assess the image for weaknesses. Here I could see some limited Luminance noise, especially in the clear blue sky. I decided that I needed to do a good job of selective noise reduction to focus on the shadows and on the sky. I did this using the Nik Define filter but I was careful to make my conversion from RAW with no sharpening and only colour noise reduction first. By not sharpening at all I ensured the noise was not emphasised before I applied the noise reduction. I also like to ensure the Nik Define filter is the first luminance noise reduction applied to the image as I have found this works best.

The steps above gave me a nice clean starting position to make my adjustments and convert to Black and White. After the Black and White conversion I used a programme called Topaz Detail which is very good at revealing details hidden in the image. Only once I was happy with this did I resize my image and then apply selective sharpening to the finished image. This gave me a nicely detailed and sharp image that was also very clean in terms of noise. Whilst I don’t yet have the print I can judge how it will look by viewing my image at 50% magnification.I have taken a screen grab of part of the 30inch x 20 inch image zoomed to 50% so you can judge this for yourself.

Captured on an LX5 and enlarged to 30″ x 20″. This section of the enlarged image is shown at 50% magnification to give an approximation of the detail in the final print.

I also produced a second resized image at 18” on the longest side in order to print on A3+ paper. The resulting print is very detailed, with nice tones and is exceedingly sharp.

I hope information helps you if you are seeking to make larger prints from an LX5 or similar quality compact.

Viveza Book Launched

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I started using Viveza out of curiosity and it’s become an essential part of my colour workflow. I can achieve complex edits in minutes that would have taken me hours in Photoshop previously. It’s also allowing me to work almost exclusively in Lightroom.

This is just a short post to share that my Viveza book (covering Viveza 2) is now live in the Kindle store on Amazon. It’s priced at USD2.99 which comes out at about GBP1.94 depending on the exchange rate. The book covers all aspects of using the Viveza 2 software and is backed up by image files that can be downloaded from the members’ area of my Lenscraft website.

If you have never tried Viveza I can promise that it will speed up your image editing hugely and that it’s well worth trying the 15 day free trial from the Nik website. My book would of course help you get more out of the evaluation – but then I’m biased.

Here is the link to the book on Amazon.

After the very relevant question from Paul I thought it best to add this link to the Free Kindle Reader download on Amazon as it’s not easy to find.

More Lightweight Photographer posts next week.

 

Why I love the Panasonic Lumix LX5

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The very capable lens of the LX5 has captured a wonderfully sharp and detailed image. Printing at 254dpi I can create an excellent 30″ x 22.5″ print from this file.

I haven’t been posting too much over the past couple of weeks. To be totally honest my time has been going into the new Nik Viveza book I have been writing for the Kindle. I have however been asked a question and I feel compelled to answer even though time is short at the moment. The question is “what’s so special about the LX5, after all it’s only a compact camera”.

I thought I would respond by listing my key likes here (this is only a limited list):

  • The exceptionally sharp lens – the lens is fantastic and can resolve a great deal of detail in the images captured. If you are shooting in JPG, a lot of the detail can be lost as the noise reduction tends to be a little too aggressive and the sharpening not quite sufficient. Images captured in RAW format are however a completely different proposition and you can pull so much detail and sharpness from the files.
  • The fast aperture – this allows you to shoot in low light conditions that would make you pack up your DSLR. You can handhold indoors with acceptable shutter speeds even at relatively low ISO. The LX5 can’t compete with larger sensor cameras in terms of noise but the fast aperture means you can usually keep the ISO low. Even wide open at f/2.0 the lens produces excellent results.
  • RAW Capture – Capturing your images in RAW is essential if you want to create a high quality image. The LX5 only has a 10Mpixel count but when used correctly you can produce a superb A3+ print. By shooting in RAW you can apply the correct level of noise reduction, sharpening and enjoy a much higher dynamic range than with JPG files.
  • Great Depth of Field – whilst the small sensor in comparison with a DSLR (the sensor is actually larger than with many other compacts) and therefore has higher levels of noise, this also gives the camera a greater depth of field at wide apertures. You might be able to shoot at f/2.0 with your DSLR but can you get everything in sharp focus? With a correctly composed scene you may well be able to with the LX5.
  • Design – The design of this camera is to my mind perfect. It fits in my hand and my pocket. It’s easy to use and the menus are intuitive. Most of the features I need to access in a hurry are buttons on the camera.
  • Great Macro – I can switch the lens to Macro mode and get great close-ups. If I want to do that with an SLR I need additional equipment.

Whilst the LX5 might be a little long in the tooth now, its replacement the LX7 is very similar and has many of the same features. It does address some of the LX5’s weaknesses but it would take a considerable improvement for me to feel the need to make the switch. If you are considering getting a quality compact then I can recommend the LX5 whole heartedly and you can pick them up at bargain prices currently.

Fixing the Weakness of the GX1

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This is Stanley Force in the Lake District although it looks more like the jungle from the land time forgot. Captured on a GX1 with a 4 stop ND filter to lengthen the exposure.

If you have been following my Lightweight Photography blog you might remember a post I made discussing the Achilles Heal of the GX1. At the time I had been out with my 5D and GX1 shooting waterfalls. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to achieve a slow enough speed with the GX1 to create the images I wanted so I ended up shooting most of my work on the 5D that day.

Since this trip I have purchased a Neutral Density filter from Hoya. The filter is of the screw in type as this limits the chance of light leaking in around a filter holder. It’s also quite convenient as my 3 main lenses (9-18mm, 14-45 and 45-200) are all 52mm diameter so I can attach the filter to any of these.

If you look back to the original post you will see there were a few questions asking about the strength of the filter I am using. I thought therefore I would give some additional information in this post.

The first thing I would like to say is that the filter strength is not the important factor here but the shutter speed is. When I shoot waterfalls I usually like to see the blurring of water to emphasise the movement but I still like some detail in the water. Generally speaking I don’t want to turn the water into a mist so keep my shutter speeds in the region of 0.5 to 3 seconds (as a general rule of thumb). The exact speed is based on factors such as my distance from the falls and the volume of water flowing over the fall. Whilst I can often judge this from experience it’s often a good idea to take a few test shots and adjust the speed if necessary.

The strength of the filter I have chosen is 4 stop (16x). In shaded conditions such as where you tend to find waterfalls, this puts me in the right ball park when shooting at between f/7.1 and f/14. I usually shoot at f/5.6 to f/8 as this is where my lenses are at their best so perhaps I could have opted for a 5 stop filter. I can however attach a square filter holder to the end of my lens and insert one of my ND Graduated filters pulled down so that the dark area of the filter covers the entire image area. This can give me an additional 1, 2 or 3 stops of light reduction which is better than having too strong a filter to start with.

I hope this helps a few of you wanting to achieve longer shutter speeds.

My Photoshop Skills are Obsolete

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This image shot on a 5D was enhanced in a mater of minutes using Viveza. The same results in Photoshop would have taken far longer.

For a long time now I have been a user and enthusiast for Photoshop. I am however a strong advocate of making photography light weight in all respects and that includes post processing images. I don’t want to be sat behind a computer for hours on end when I could be out taking pictures. No, my life and time are far too valuable for that and this was one of the drivers for me switching to Lightroom. I had reasoned that Lightroom could give me similar results to Photoshop but perhaps, from everything I had read, much faster.

Well, Lightroom is faster, especially where you want to apply the same adjustments to a group of images. It also makes finding an image a breeze and I wouldn’t be without it now. It is not however a replacement for Photoshop and I find that images adjusted in Lightroom still need some extra “polishing” in Photoshop in order to reach their best. It’s not therefore the huge timesaver I had hoped for.

What has caught me completely unawares however is a Photoshop plug-in from Nik Software called Viveza. It’s a very simple application to use and is accessed from within Photoshop but also integrates with Lightroom. What this plug-in gives me is the ability to make key adjustments to my images whilst targeting specific areas. For example I can edit the blue in a sky whilst leaving the ground and clouds unchanged. Yes I could do this in Photoshop but it would take some delicate selections to ensure I did this with a seamless blend, all of which takes time. With Viveza it takes just minutes, looks completely natural and requires much less skill than with Photoshop.

Having now used Viveza for a couple of months through Lightroom I am finding I do less and less in Photoshop. In fact, it’s got to the stage now where I think I can achieve better results with Viveza than I can using Photoshop. My Photoshop skills, painfully built up over years, now seem largely obsolete.

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.