Looking back a couple of months when I first purchased my Sony RX100 I said that I needed some form of adapter in order to use ND Graduate filters with this camera. As most of my work is shot in the landscape, ND graduate filters are an essential accessory for me and I just can’t work without them.
If I compare my LX5 I have an adapter tube that I can screw onto a threaded ring at the base of the lens. The RX100 however has nothing like this which is why after some searching I found the Lensmate solution. I have to admit that this is not a cheap solution and having incurred £12.50 in duty charges when it was shipment into the UK, it borders on being extortionate.
Well the adapter has arrived and it looks like just a couple of small pieces of metal and plastic. Basically there is a ring that sticks to the front of the lens using 3M double sided adhesive tape. Once in place there is a second threaded adapter that mounts onto the ring and clicks into place. This allows you to easily remove any filters with a small 90 degree twist of the adapter.
Now I have to admit that I was a little worried sticking a ring to the front of my new camera. I thought that it looks fiddly and troublesome to mount correctly. The kit does however come with a simple tool that aligns the ring e3xactly. There is a supporting video on the website and having watched this it took me less than 1 minute to attach the adapter and it was perfect first time.
So despite my complaints over price this is a very good design that works very well indeed. I have used the adapter out in the field and it’s perfect. It’s also very light and small enough so that the camera still fits inside the Sony case. If you need a filter adapter for an RX100 then this is worth looking at but beware the price is high.
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.
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.
I don’t normally like carrying too many accessories for my photography because they can be a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand they help you do things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible but on the other they add size, weight and can hinder your work. There are some accessories however that I do consider essential for the LX5:
Screen protector – I don’t think this one takes much explaining other than to say the rear screen can scratch easily. I use a 3 inch thin plastic screen protector that was made for a mobile phone as they are cheap and do a great job.
JJC lens cap – Where the LX5 lens meets the camera body there is a threaded ring. Unscrew this ring and you can screw on the JJC replacement lens cap. The lens cap is never removed but as you switch on the camera the lens extends through the lens cap which splits into three. When the lens retracts the lens cap closes to cover it again. This has protected my lens on countless occasions and also reduces lens cleaning. This is a great accessory for street photography.
Filter Tube – In the previous point I explained how the filter cap could screw to the lens of the camera. The filter tube follows the same approach and screws to the camera with the lens extending inside the tube. The other end of the tube is threaded and can accept a filter ring to which you can then attach filters. For Landscape Photography the ability to attach an filters such as an ND Graduate is essential. The only downside is that you can only attach either the lens cap or the filter tube but not both together.
My final accessory is really optional and is noise reduction software. If you are keeping below ISO400 with the LX5 and not printing larger than A3, you probably don’t need this but as the ISO creeps up it can become essential. Even if you use only low ISO settings you may be a bit of a perfectionist as I am (I often clean images even from my 5D MkII to remove noise because I am that fussy). I actually use 2 software packages for noise reduction at present, Nik Dfine and Topaz DeNoise. DeNoise is probably the best to my mind but you might have your own preference.
On a final point of interest, many photographers would consider the LX5 to be an accessory for their main camera. If you are one of these people think again and try a day out with just the LX5 and a couple of accessories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If there is a single accessory I see as essential (not just useful) it’s the ND Grad (Neutral Density Graduated) filter. This is the filter that is clear at the bottom but a dark grey colour at the top. There is a graduated area to gradually transition from one to the other. It’s call Neutral because it’s not supposed to have any impact on the colour of the image although some do. If by the way you want to know more about these filters and the options there is a tutorial on my Lenscraft website at http://www.lenscraft.co.uk/training/160.html.
The ND grad comes in various strengths and is used to darken a bright area of an image such as the sky, which might otherwise cause the other areas to become too dark. As I’m sure you can imagine this is very important to Landscape Photographers especially when shooting scenes with a high dynamic range such as sunsets. Without this filter you will typically end up with either a lovely sky and a black ground or a well exposed ground and a white sky.
Not using ND grad filters is probably the biggest mistakes newcomers to Landscape Photography make. Certainly you can take multiple exposures and blend them together but this is additional effort and time. If we are to keep our workflow lightweight as well as our equipment, it’s important to get it right in camera where possible and this is why the ND grad is so important to me.
There are a number of manufacturers of ND grads. Lee Filters are widely considered in the UK to be the best and used my most of the Pro Landscape Photographers. Whilst I too use Lee filters, I find they are expensive, quite bulky and heavy. Certainly where I am using a small sensor camera such as my GX1 or LX5, I don’t need the size or weight of the 100mm Lee system.
Recently I have started to use Hi-Tech filters which in the UK are marketed by Format Filters and they have performed very well indeed. These filters can be purchased in P size (85mm), are slightly thinner than Lee, certainly cheaper and the accessories to attach them to the lens are much lighter. By carrying a 0.3 and 0.6 filter wrapped in a lens cloth I have everything I need at a fraction of the weight and cost. Additionally, if I need a Neutral Density filter (rather than a graduate) to slow exposure I simply pull the filter down lower in the holder so only the dark area covers the lens.
All this keeps my equipment light and allows me to enjoy my photography much more. The image shown here was taken using a ND grad filter to balance the exposure for the sky with the rest of the image or I would have lost the light rays breaking through the clouds.