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.
The original colour image with the defauilt RAW settings is shown above
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.
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.
Copyright: Robin Whalley, 2011
Continued from previous blog…
So, looking at the use of aperture to control depth of field is actually a very effective tool for doing this and depth of field is a key creative decision you need to make when capturing your images. Let’s say you want to create a portrait but the background is distracting. The solution is to open the aperture wide to throw the background out of focus and isolate the subject. If you are shooting landscapes and want to achieve the maximum depth of field so that everything from the foreground to the distant background is sharp, you would select a small aperture. Sure there are other factors at work here which can emphasise the impact of the aperture but they do just that, emphasise the effect. The priority should still be to select the right aperture for the image.
Now let’s consider some of the problems that come with the aperture control and lenses. The first occurs when we stop the lens down to its smallest aperture. This often results in diffraction and potentially distortion. I once had a wide angle Pentax lens that when stopped down to its smallest aperture would bend and distort images in the corner. Diffraction is a little different and will result in soft and slightly out of focus images. Again I remember when I was first starting in photography and I had a cheap wide angle Tokina lens that suffered badly from diffraction. Not understanding this I would stop down the lens to f/22 and the results were always poor.
At the opposite end we can open up our aperture as wide as possible. Most lenses however don’t go very wide with a maximum aperture in the range of f/3.5 to f/5.6 (particularly true of zooms). At their widest aperture most lenses are also soft, especially in the corners. Many also suffer from uneven lighting and tend to vignette due to light fall off in the corners – not always something you want. Higher quality lenses from top manufacturers such as Zeiss and Leica tend to be the exceptions and will still perform well when wide open or stopped down. Unfortunately they are also expensive.
This then leaves most of us with an area of optimum lens performance which is usually 1-2 stops above wide open for usually 1-2 stops. With a typically zoom lens on an SLR this is probably in the range of f/8.0 to f/12.0. Does that sound familiar?
To be continued.
Last Thursday night I was presenting at Bolton Camera Club. It was a good evening with lots of discussion, especially when I pulled out the sample prints I had taken. A lot of the members looking at the prints made from my LX5 compact Camera were surprised by the not only the quality and detail displayed but the “relatively wide” aperture I had selected. The image above was shot at f/8.0 yet it’s sharp from front to back. My New York Skyline shown in an earlier post was shot at f/2.8 and everything is in focus, even viewed close up printed at A3+. The member of Bolton Camera Club are not however alone in this surprise as it’s something I experience often when talking to club members from all over.
Selecting the right aperture for a scene is something we tend to do automatically once we have been in photography for a while. Unfortunately the aperture selection in lightweight cameras might not be quite as you expect it and you could end up making choices that have a negative impact on your photographs. If you stop and think, there are only a couple of reasons why you might want to control your aperture:
- To control your depth of field
- To control your shutter speed (increase or decrease)
Now I’m going to be controversial and say the only reason you should be changing your aperture is the first one. The second option, to control your shutter speed is in fact a trade off from controlling your depth of field. If you disagree good (you have your own opinion) but stay with me and understand my argument. It might just change your perspective on photography.
So let’s deal with the “misconception” of using aperture to control shutter speed and why I argue against this. My reason is that it’s actually a relatively ineffective when used in this way. If you want to change the shutter speed for creative reasons (which should be your first priority) it will be because your current speed if either too slow to freeze action or it’s too fast to introduce creative blur and motion.
Let’s say I want to freeze motion so I open up my aperture as wide as I can. This will increase the shutter speed but at the expense of reducing the depth of field in the image, something I might not want. Often such a reduction in depth of field will affect the aesthetics of the image and will change it completely. A better option is to increase the ISO setting as this is more effective. It will introduce noise but you can always address noise if it becomes too great in other ways. Another solution which is often overlooked is to use flash to help freeze motion. In the end you might need to adjust the aperture as well as these solutions but this needs to be a deliberate decision and you need to be aware of the impact on your image as well as the drawbacks.
Now if you want to slow the shutter speed you might try to stop down the lens to as small an aperture as you can. This will however introduce diffraction as we will cover later as well as affecting the aesthetics of the image. Rather than this approach try reducing the ISO you are using. Again, this might not have sufficient effect or you might already be shooting at the slowest ISO your camera can support. The best option however is to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter placed over the lens. These come in various strengths up to 10 stops and are incredibly useful. An alternative option might be to use a polarising filter which usually takes out 3 stops of light.
To be continued.
In a previous blog (Don’t Let Noise Kill Your Images) I wrote about the steps you could take to minimise noise in your images. It’s long been recognised that cameras with small sensors have higher levels of noise than they would if they had a larger sensor as a result of packing more pixels into less space. Whilst there have been great advances in this area, it can still be a problem.
If I look at the images produced by my GX1 (16Mpixels) and compare these to images shot on my GF1 (12Mpixels) both of which have the same sized sensor, I can see real improvements in the GX1 both at base and higher ISO levels. I would say that I am examining the images in great detail for any trace of noise in case you think these cameras are poor performers. To give you something to compare against, when I do this for check with my 5D MkII I can also pick out noise at ISO100 in dark areas and in the Blue channel. So what do you do if you find you can’t avoid capturing noisy images?
In the past I have used a noise reduction tool called Neat Image but to be honest it’s quite a lengthy process to get good results and whilst it has a batch mode, I prefer to fine tune the software to each image (hardly a lightweight processing workflow). This weekend however I decided to download a trial of DeNoise from Topaz Labs and the Noise reduction plug in from PhotoWiz (I already use Contrast Master, B&W Styler and Focal Blade plug-in and rate these highly). The results were a bit of a surprise.
I found both solutions did a better job than Neat Image however the PhotoWiz product took some time to process my sample image, something I want to avoid. Comparing this with the performance of Topaz Labs DeNoise solution I found a huge difference. DeNoise was incredibly fast to process my image but it also gave the cleanest and most lifelike results. Finding the right level of reduction was as simple as moving one slider but it was then possible to further fine tune the results. It gave me lots of control in an interface that was very easy and fast to use.
I want to experiment further before purchasing, but early results look very promising.
New Lightweight Definition
Lofoten Islands, Norway March 2012
Copyright: Robin Whalley 2012 – but feel free to repost and share
When I decided to start this blog it was my intention to discuss the creation of great photography of professional quality using lightweight equipment; that is smaller and lighter than the usual DSLR and accessories. Having thought this through further I think there is a need for another dimension to this definition. Rather than concentrating on size and weight I think the third dimension is time and for a very important reason. Creating great photography seems to be taking me more and more time these days.
Since turning digital some 10 years back I have found the role of the photographer has dramatically changed and is taking far more time. Consider the idea of a stock library. In the old world (pre digital) a photographer would typically shoot and submit slides to agencies, keeping records of who had what. The agency would record, file, keyword, possibly scan the work as well as promote the photographer (if you were lucky). Now all of this work has passed to the photographer including with some agencies the role of promoting the photographer and their work. There are a few exceptions but generally there is much more for the photographer to do with rates of return much lower than they were 10 years ago. It’s therefore necessary for the photographer who wants to earn decent money in stock to be as efficient as possible, or to put it another way have a lightweight workflow.
Even if you don’t want to make your living at photography but just want to produce great work, you still need to store and catalogue your images. You need to spend time converting the images from to TIFF files and then perfect your vision using tools such as Photoshop. All this adds up to time on your computer rather than time behind the camera. This is something that we need to address and a new dimension that I will try to cover in my future blogs.
Copyright: Robin Whalley 2012 – but feel free to repost and share www.thelightweightphotographer.com
See more of my work at www.lenscraft.co.uk
Over the course of a year I am asked to give quite a few presentations to camera clubs here in the UK. These presentations cover a variety of topics rather than just being about Lightweight Photography, but I do often make reference to my use of compact cameras. I also like to take along A3 prints I have made, including those from my LX5 compact camera, so people can view them at the break.
The first thing I like to try is for people to pick out the LX5 prints from those made on my 5D MkII. People sometimes guess which one but there is virtually no one who selects the correct print with a rationale such as the quality isn’t as good. My challenge then is to ask how many people print larger than A3+ and very few say they need to do so. Of those that only print up to A3+, I like to ask “how many spend lots of money on expensive lenses and SLR bodies in order to produce images that they can’t distinguish from those shot on a compact camera costing a few hundred pounds”. Killer question eh?
All sorts of justifications now start to come out as to why they can’t possibly use a compact camera. One of the most frequent and one that is regularly raised as a question is that you can’t use filters with a compact camera because there is no filter ring to attach the filter folder to. In fact I also hear this when I am out with my camera; people come over to me to ask how on earth I have attached a filter.
The truth is that many of the high end compact cameras do allow for a filter attachment but people don’t realise it. Often there is a plastic ring around the base of the lens that can be unscrewed. It’s then possible to attach a tube to the thread which also has a thread at the other end to which you can attach a filter ring and holder. The cost of this little accessory is around £10 and they can be purchased from eBay for all sorts of cameras. As I say, I use mine with an LX5 but my friend has a Canon G12 and can do the same. He also came across someone with a Canon G9 who found he could attach the filter holder. Another acquaintance had a Canon S95 which also used this solution. In fact, it’s probably a good bet that if your compact camera can shoot RAW files that it will also have some sort of mechanism for attaching filters.
So don’t make this assumption and reject compact cameras from your photography. And if you know your camera does have a way to attach filters, why not leave a comment here to share this with others.