Tag Archives: Landscape Photography

Lightweight Photography Limitation

For long exposures in strong winds a sturdy tripod is essential. The size of the camera also matters.
For long exposures in strong winds a sturdy tripod is essential. The size of the camera also matters.

This last weekend was an interesting one as I was back in Northumberland photographing. I didn’t sleep much the night before which is often the case when making an early morning start, however this time it wasn’t the early start causing this; it was the howling wind. All night long the wind continued and well into the next day.

In the morning we sat in the car just before daybreak watching the huge wave’s role in, creating huge plumes of spray from the top of each wave. It was at this point that I realised my lightweight tripod just wasn’t going to support my Canon 5D with filters; at least not without showing signs of vibration. In the end I decided I had to use my old Manfrotto 055 tripod which is much heavier and was in the car as a backup.

Most of the results from the dawn shoot using the Manfrotto were vibration free and very crisp. Later in the day I switched back to my lightweight Velbon tripod which although still windy, t performed very well given I had a large DSLR mounted on it.

The following morning was pretty much a repeat of the day before except the winds were even stronger.  So strong in fact that I struggled to use the Manfrotto tripod with the 5D and ended up trying to shield the camera whilst holding down the tripod. I did manage a few wide angle shots with the smallest of my lenses but I wanted to use a long lens and in the strong wind I couldn’t.

My solution was to switch the 5D for a Panasonic GX1 with 45-200mm lens. This gave the equivalent of a 90-400mm lens on the 5D. Interestingly the smaller profile and weight of the camera allowed it to sit solidly on the Manfrotto tripod. So, although the Lightweight Velbon tripod suffered in the strong winds, so did the 5D and best of all, the lightweight GX1 solved the problem.

Infrared Revelation

Infreared tree captured with converted GX1
Infreared tree captured with converted GX1

A little while back I reported that I was struggling to get my Infrared images from my GX1 to meet my expectations. I was experiencing difficulties with depth of field, focus and my images seemed grainy and soft. And whilst I did achieve some improvements to the quality I wasn’t entirely satisfied the results. The real problem however is that I have nothing to compare my results against so it might be that all Infrared images are soft and grainy. Well, I have had something of a revelation over the weekend and have achieved some very high quality images with which I am delighted.

The source of my problem was identified after a friend sent his Nikon camera for conversion. When returned the lens had the UV filter removed and this had been carefully packaged with a note saying “DON’T USE WITH INFRARED”. When he spoke to the company they said they had encountered a number of problems in the past when these filters are used on converted cameras. Whilst all filters are not the same, there is no way of telling which cause a problem so he was recommended to buy a clear glass lens protector instead.

As soon as I heard this I searched the internet but couldn’t find anything about this problem. I decided to do some quick tests by simply removing my UV filters (expensive B&W ones) and the results were amazing. The areas that had been very soft were now much sharper. The graininess that had been apparent in images had now cleared. The images were now significantly sharper with fine details appearing crisp. And the distortion appearing towards the edge of the frame (especially in the corners) was reduced significantly, down to levels expected with these lenses.

Now you might recall that I mentioned my 45-200 lens didn’t display such strong problems as my 9-18 lens and that my 18-45 lens was worse than the others. Well checking the filters, the one attached to the 45-200 was a cheap 7 Day Shop UV filter which appears to have much less effect than the B&W filters. When I checked the B&W filters I found one of them caused more problems than the other.

I am now on the lookout for clear glass 52mm filters that do no filtering at all. Until I find them I will be shooting with the front lens element exposed.

Lightweight Infrared

Infrared effect in Lightroom
Infrared effect in Lightroom

I made an interesting discovery last night as a result of seeing a friends work on Flickr. Ed, the friend in question (who will probably also be reading this at some point) is on Flickr as Vision and Light. His work is excellent but he recently added one image of pine trees in a forest that I find simply stunning. The image looked like it had been shot with an Infrared Camera but it turned out that it was captured on his GX1 and then converted to black and white in Lightroom using a Blue filter (http://www.flickr.com/photos/visionandlight/8421599676/in/photostream).

Now the blue filter isn’t something that I would naturally use as it tends to send most images very dark (unless you have a clear blue sky which turns white). As a result I decided to experiment a little with my own images and in particular the one above. Whilst the Blue filter and even High Contrast Blue filter didn’t work for this image the Infrared filter did. What made me really think however is that I have loads of Lightroom Presets (I have downloaded lots) but I never use them other than as an initial set up for some of my RAW files.

In the past I have tried quite a few different “standard” settings for creating that wonderful infrared look but none have been successful. This particular Lightroom preset (ships as standard in Lightroom) was quite different. When I looked at what was happening, it was quite different to most others I have seen. Whilst the Yellow and Green sliders had been pushed to +100% the Red slider remained at 0%. Unusually the Blue sliders also remained at 0% where the common wisdom is to reduce the Blue slider to say -50% to darken blues. Reducing the blue slider is something I don’t like doing usually as it tends to reveal low frequency noise in areas with lots of blue (such as the sky) and can be very difficult to correct.

So the image you see here is based on the Lightroom present for Infrared.  Have however removed the grain and made some fine tuning adjustments to contrast and exposure. With these changes made I then exported the image to Photoshop where I added selective blur to the highlights using Focal blade before final sharpening and printing.

The lesson in this for me is that I shouldn’t ignore ways of working such as using presets. The lightweight route is to minimise equipment and processing to achieve great results. I don’t think the Infrared route I have chosen (converting a GX1) is truly a lightweight route; the Lightroom option may have been better in some respects.

RX100 First Real Impressions

Superbly sharp images from the RX100. Click to see larger image
Superbly sharp images from the RX100. Click to see larger image

Finally I managed to get out with the RX100 at the weekend and despite all the snow headed to North Wales with a friend. The light didn’t last long before the sky closed in with it starting to snow again. Fortunately I managed to get quite a few shots with the RX100 which has allowed me to assess its capabilities a little better.

Firstly the downside to using the RX100:

  • It’s a very small camera and it needs that leather half case to help with grip (I now have one on order)
  • It’s difficult to feel the shutter button, especially when wearing gloves
  • I miss the 24mm wide angle. 28mm is good but there were a few times that I found myself wishing for more

Now to the excellent stuff:

  • It’s a remarkably easy camera to use but better than that, it’s enjoyable and very intuitive. The more I use it the more I enjoy using it.
  • Size wise, its perfect to slip into your pocket
  • The sensor is lovely with low noise and a very high dynamic range
  • Image quality is exceptional

Image quality is the real reason I bought the camera and it’s simply amazing. The image you see with this post was shot with the RX100 and I can’t fault it. The quality looks like it’s out of my 5D and it produces the same size print. At ISO80 to 160 there is no visible noise, even when I set the noise reduction to off in my RAW converter. And whilst I am shooting RAW as always, the JPG’s are really very good and I would be happy to use them. This means I can take advantage of in camera HDR and other creative features.

The camera seems to resolve every little detail of a scene, especially in the first 20-50 feet. It’s not as good as the 5D with subjects in the far distance, which is really down to the laws of physics but it is so much better than I had hoped for. As for the lens, it is so sharp, even with finest details are sharply resolved. I actually printed the above image at A3+ and didn’t apply any output sharpening, only the usual RAW capture sharpening (and even then not much). The print is actually on the verge of looking too sharp and perhaps needs softening slightly.

The other aspect of image quality which you can’t judge from this image is the natural colours. Greens and blues are particularly good and far better than the LX5 or even the GX1 (although my latest GX1 is a big improvement on the one I had converted to Infrared).

As a pocket camera for a Landscape photographer or even urban work this is an amazing tool. And in case you were wondering just how detailed the full image is, here are three sections at 100% resolution with the only sharpening being light RAW capture sharpening.

Sample 1. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 1. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 2. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 2. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 3. Click to view at 100%.
Sample 3. Click to view at 100%.

Sony RX100 – A Good Question

The LX5 is a great camera and will render fine detail in the landscape despite its "limited" resolution.
The LX5 is a great camera and will render fine detail in the landscape despite its “limited” resolution. Click the image to view larger.

Following my blog posting to say that I am upgrading my LX5 to a Sony RX100 someone asked the perhaps obvious question why I had picked the Sony. There are so many high quality compacts now coming onto the market, why this one. In answering the question, I couldn’t provide one overriding reason so thought it best to respond fully in this post.

The first and probably most important thing that I want to highlight is that not everyone has the same demands of a camera or places the same value on its functions and specification. If we did all think the same we would all be buying the same camera.

In deciding to switch to the RX100 as my compact camera I had a number of criteria that I weighed up. These included:

  • Size of the camera. It needs to fit in my pocket easily. This wasn’t something I could do with the LX5 once the filter adapter tube was attached. Surprisingly the RX100 is smaller than the LX5 and is much easier “carry anywhere”.
  • The camera must be able to shoot RAW and the RAW files work with my converters. With some of new cameras I would need to wait until support is added to my converters or use the manufacturers’ software. Manufacturers’ software usually falls well short of the likes of Lightroom.
  • It must be possible to attach a filter adapter so I can use P sized filters. As I shoot mainly Landscapes this is essential. The LX5 used a bulky adapter tube but for the RX100 I have ordered a rather small neat solution from Lensmate which attaches to the front of the camera and isn’t bulky. I also noticed that some cameras just don’t have the ability to accept filters and there are no third party solutions.
  • Resolution was important to me. Whilst I thought the LX5 was (and is) an amazing camera, I wanted more resolution, ideally a minimum of 14Mpixels. This was very important to me as I want the option of producing very large and detailed prints. I know I can resize the LX5 to 24 inches and perhaps 30 inches with some images but I don’t always want to be resizing images. The RX100 produces +18 inch prints at 300dpi out of the camera.
  • Low light capability. The RX100 is superb in this respect. Probably due to its 1” sensor that isn’t too much smaller than the Micro 43 sensors.
  • Image quality and detail. For this I simply downloaded sample RAW files from the internet. I was impressed by some cameras in terms of colour and lens sharpness but the Sony just blew me away.
  • Ability to throw the background out of focus. This is better than the LX5 and many other cameras due to the larger sensor.
  • Macro capability. The RX100 isn’t that great hear but it’s much better than the Canon G1X which was another camera I considered. I also have the option of fitting a close up lens (52mm screw in) which I already own from years ago.

My suggestion if you are thinking of changing your camera is to work out the features that are essential to you and place them in order of priority. You can then rank the various cameras against these.

There were some aspects of the RX100 that I wasn’t happy with and perhaps I will have to learn to tolerate:

  • Because of its small size and shape it isn’t as easy to grip with 1 hand as the LX5. I think however that a leather half case will resolve this if I can manage to take out a second mortgage to pay the inflated price of the Sony case (but it’s really nice).
  • The wide angle 28mm is limiting. I would have liked the zoon range to be 24mm – 120mm.

And if you are wondering, no I’m not selling the LX5, at least not for a while yet as it’s still a great camera and there is just something about it that I can’t put my finger on.

What if you don’t shoot RAW

Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don't take steps to address these.
Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don’t take steps to address these.

If you look back over my posts you will find quite a lot of comments about the need to shoot in RAW format and how I use RAW all the time. I have however been reminded by a couple of readers that not everyone does or even wants to shoot in RAW. So what should they do?

I have lots of concerns and reasons why I don’t shoot in JPG but one of the main reasons is the lack of post processing control. This is especially true of Noise Reduction and Sharpening which are applied to JPG’s in camera and which are key to determining the sharpness and detail in the finished image. If you are an LX5 and/or GX1 users I can tell you how to address this and my advice will probably apply to other cameras in the Panasonic Range as well as possibly other manufacturers.

There are two basic problems to my mind with the JPG’s from the LX5 and GX1 (and also the GF1 if I remember correctly). They have too much noise reduction and too little sharpening. If I had to shoot JPG I would be turning off noise reduction and sharpening in camera. I would then apply noise reduction as a separate step once I had the JPG on my computer before I did any image manipulation. I would then sharpen the final image to a level at which I am happy. Working in this way will help preserve your images and minimise loss of detail.

The way to switch off the noise and sharpening is through the Film Mode in the LX5. This is found in the Menu under the Record settings and is on the first page. Here you have the option to configure a new Custom film setting for which you can specify Contrast, Sharpening, Saturation and Noise Reduction. The GX1 is very similar to this.

If you want to shoot JPG but want to achieve sharp details, check your camera manual and give this approach a try.

My GX1 Lightweight Trip

Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

I was going to use today’s post to tell you a little more about how I used the Topaz Detail 2 software to emphasise the detail in my LX5 images to produce enlargements. On Friday however I attended a Topaz webinar about Detail 3 which is due for release shortly. Detail 3 seems to be a big leap forward on Detail 2 (which is already very good) so I will wait until I have the new software to explain more. Instead I want to share some information about a trip out yesterday.

These days my opportunities to shoot tend to be when I am out in the landscape walking so my main camera for this is the GX1. Every month or two however I have the opportunity to get out with other photographers and spend a day or two just photographing. For these trips I tend to supplement my usual GX1 and LX5 cameras with a 5D MKII. I do like to use this camera and the results are superb. The downside is that it’s heavy and walking around with two full camera systems on your back for a long period of time is hard work.

For this weekend’s trip I decided I would only take the GX1 and LX5 with me together with some ND graduated filters (“P” sized HiTech) and a lightweight Velbon tripod (that I discussed a few posts back). The GX1 was a replacement for my 5D and the LX5 was a sort of point and shoot experimental camera with which to explore ideas.  The GX1 and 3 lenses weighs less than the 5D body but the big surprise was how much I used the LX5; I literally couldn’t put it down.

What a joy it was packing such a limited amount of equipment. There was far less than usual and everything I needed fitted in a small Low Pro slingshot bag. This allowed me to walk around all day on the beach, easily access my equipment and not need to put the bag down on the sand. In the past this has been a problem with the bag ending up with sand in it, not to mention the neck pain due to hanging a heavy camera round it.

In the end I enjoyed the photography much more than usual as I was free to more around with ease due to the small camera size. I felt very fresh through the day so was more prepared to put up with the very cold conditions. I was also able to shoot quite late into the day without the need for my tripod. I was even shooting handheld with the LX5 well after the sun had set (not that you could see the sun yesterday afternoon) but I will speak about that another day.

Lightweight only days are definitely going to be a feature of my future trips and I’m now wondering if it’s worth retiring the 5D.